Grandma Betty, as we call her, grafts a branch with care, first applying a cayenne tincture, a mixture of the hot pepper, apple cider vinegar, and some mystery ingredient. Then she carefully wraps gauze around the fresh graft and leaves it to heal. The same technique, and medicine, was used to patch up my scrapes and bruises, inflicted by childhood eagerness.
Apple trees are the family business. It has been that way for generations. For most of my life, my grandmother has been the main caretaker of an orchard of more than 1,200 trees.
Widowed now for more than 25 years, Grandma Betty was the fittest 76-year-old I’ve ever known. Stubborn as she was strong, and religious as she was superstitious, my grandmother has shaped my world—even grafted my branches.
A callus on the thumb-facing side of the pointer finger is the mark of an experienced apple harvester or thinner—a callus I had every year up until high-school graduation. She taught me to feel when the apple is ripe, because color can be deceiving. She also shared the secret that a pocked apple is often the sweetest of the bunch. She was a teacher in her married life, and it showed in the way she handled us grandchildren. Willingly or by her stubborn persistence, we were going to learn whatever she had to teach.
The 15-minute drive to the orchard became 30 when she drove, and she always ordered her passenger to read the tattered Book of Mormon stowed in the glove compartment. At the time, I lacked any testimony of the truthfulness of the book, nor did I have any interest in finding one. I read despite knowing my life was not in line with its teachings; I’d learned over the years that you never cross Grandma.
But on the day I realized my addictions had robbed me of a continuing relationship with someone I loved, the memories of what I had read on those drives—memories my grandmother had grafted in—came to me in my despair: “How merciful is our God unto us, for he remembereth the house of Israel, both roots and branches; and he stretches forth his hands unto them all the day long” (Jacob 6:4).
A healthy graft will bear fruit after about two years. It took me a little longer. Albeit weak, my testimony was always there, but concealed amid a mass of branches that bore only bitter. But as the years passed, those branches—one by one—were pruned away. The remaining graft of testimony, however, grew stronger and, when the time was right, began to bear sweet fruit.
I see now that I am like one of Grandma Betty’s pocked apples. She saw my worth all along and, without my noticing, had prepared me for the day I would need a knowledge of the redemptive power of God’s love.
When she got sick, pruning hooks were traded in for needles. There is only one thing Betty hates more than a late frost—doctors, a truth readily apparent in her efforts to rip out the IV whenever left alone. The family took turns watching over her in the hospital to make sure she wouldn’t try to run. When she could no longer remember my name, the time came to remove the last of the grafting bandages from my testimony.
This trial, however, gave me eyes that I didn’t have before. I could now see the grafts she placed in the rest of my family. Her work ethic, her religious devotion, and even her stubbornness were apparent as the family banded together to cover my grandmother’s duties both at the orchard and at home. In her health, she would never have admitted the need for such help, or accepted it, but now—tincture dripping from the fresh wound in our hearts—we are blessed with the opportunity to let her taste the fruits of all the good she has grafted into us.