Banana War

22 February 2020

The war began in the Summer of 1976. Two women, short of stature but strong of will, each held a dishonor they could not bear. And neither would yield.

It began innocently enough on a Wednesday morning. Margaret, the shorter of the two, told her neighbor Ann that she would be going into town that afternoon.

“Is there anything I can get you?” Margaret asked. So much was implied in that question. The drive into town was more than thirty miles along the winding narrow roads of Northern Minnesota. The journey could take more than an hour each way, and one didn’t make the trip lightly. So when a woman of the neighborhood made the trip, she asked her neighbors what they might need. Speak up now or be at the mercy of the next brave traveler.

“I could use some bananas,” Ann replied. And thus an accord was had.

That afternoon Margaret made the trip with her grandson. That’s where I came in, for Margaret was my grandmother. We went to fetch groceries for the week, and also Ann’s bananas. They were 19 cents on sale.

When we arrived home, the first thing my grandmother did was to fetch the bananas out of the grocery bag and hand them to me.

“Get those right over to Ann,” she said. Not Miss Nagle, as Gran would usually refer to her in my presence. This was between friends, and so she called her Ann. It was important business, and so I hurried down the gravel lane, bananas in hand. Five minutes later I reached Ann Nagle in her garden.

“Here’s the bananas, Miss Nagle,” I said, holding them toward her. She looked up and smiled.

“Well now! It’s so good to see you!” she said. “Bring those bananas right into the house.” I followed her as she walked to her cabin, into the kitchen. She patted the counter as she walked by it, indicating where the bananas should go. Then she went on to the fridge and fetched a pitcher of lemonade. She pulled a glass from the shelf and filled it.

“It’s been so gee golly hot lately,” she said, placing the glass before me. I took a sip and my face puckered.

Ann Nagle’s lemonade was famous for being both powerful sweet and powerful sour. No Minute Maid powder would ever enter her home. Her lemonade was real, and had so much sugar it felt almost a sin to have it. Like a sip of beer your Uncle lets you have at the Fourth of July picnic.

Ann settled into a kitchen chair in a way that said the conversation would be a good half-hour or more. She complained about the heat (nearly 80 degrees the past couple of days), asked about my Grandmother’s health, and how the fishing had been of recent, and what book she saw me reading out on the dock. She was easy to have a conversation with.

Some of the neighbor ladies saw conversation as an interrogation. How are you? How’s the family? What have you been doing? Did your Uncle get his boat fixed? They wanted news and gossip, and it was your job to fill the void. Not Ann. She was fine with company, and let the conversation flutter about like a butterfly. And like my grandmother, she was excited for the events of your life whatever they may be. I could understand why they were friends.

After about 45 minutes she got up with a sigh. “Well, I must have talked your ear off now,” she said. “Tell your Gran thanks for the bananas.” I finished the last swallow of lemonade, stood and nodded in reply. I put on my cap to go.

“Dear me, I almost forgot,” she said. She walked over to her kitty by the stove and pulled out a dollar. She handed it to me with a flair. “Do thank Margaret for me.”

Five minutes later I was back at Gran’s cabin. She was knitting in her chair, looking out at the lake. She turned and smiled when she heard me clamoring through the porch.

“Miss Nagle said thanks for the bananas.” I said, “And this is for you.” My grandmother’s smile turned to an indignant frown.

“Oh, she did not!” she said. “She did not give you a dollar for those bananas.” Gran stomped her foot. “They were nineteen cents, and I was going to town anyway.” Another stomp. “You march right back there and give that dollar back. I won’t have it.”

March I did. When I knocked at Ann’s door, she opened it with a smile.

“Back so soon!” she said. “So good to see you. Do come in.” As I walked in, I told her the news.

“Gran wants me to give you your dollar back,” I said, holding it up.

“Well now,” she said, “that is disappointing.” She sighed. “Well, at least I can get you a cookie for your trouble.”

I said yes. They were oatmeal, and they were the only oatmeal cookies I liked. More conversation and company. Ann talked mostly about her tomatoes, and how she hoped to have some for my grandmother soon. My Gran also grew tomatoes, so I could smell another rivalry brewing.

When I finished my cookie, Ann reached for the dollar. “Don’t you worry about that,” she said. She handed me another cookie “for after supper” and sent me on my way. I should have known it was only the first volley of a long exchange. But in my innocence, I thought the matter settled.

The next morning Ann came over after breakfast, as was her custom. My Gran had coffee ready, and the two sat at the kitchen table for a good spell. They talked of the weather, the dock being rebuilt two houses down, and church politics. I listened to the conversation off and on from the porch, but I ignored most of it as I was reading on the porch and deep into Narnia.

After a while, Ann rose and said her goodbyes. They hugged and said they’d see each other tomorrow. I could hear the clamor of dishes as my grandmother cleaned up after breakfast and coffee. Then I heard her gasp.

“Oh!” she said, “Oh, she didn’t!”

I ran in to see what was the matter. My grandmother had her hands on her hips, scowling at the kitchen counter.

There lay the dollar.