When I was a teenager I wrote a letter to the Record-Eagle advocating cherry fighting as an event in the National Cherry Festival. I asserted that it had more relevance to harvest season than either the milk carton regatta or frog races. Had I been an astute businessman, I would have argued that cherry fighting would have presented another use for Traverse City cherries. Cherry pies, ciders, jams, tarts, and pancake batter are all very well and good, but one could make a ton of money selling bags of throwing cherries.
I became a cherry fighting expert because I used to pick cherries as a kid. As both my parents grew up on farms, my mother decided for us to work each Summer Vacation for money we couldn't spend but had to invest for college. At age eleven, college tuition was far less important than rolling over my earnings into Sweet Tarts and comic books, but these rational arguments fell on deaf ears. So for three weeks each summer for the next five years my mother dragged both my younger brother Ron and me kicking and screaming from our beds (at an even earlier time than on school days) so we could get to the Hemming farm and be pickin' by dawn.
The standard cherry picker's equipment consisted of a metal milk bucket resting against the stomach by a canvas strap that went over each shoulder, crossed in back, and snapped onto the bucket. Two full buckets equalled one lug. We discovered that if we heaped our buckets we could fill a lug and have some left over after the second bucket. This is important because the lugs were next to the dirt road that separated blocks of trees and we were not. It meant less time wasted by walking back and forth.
Our crew consisted of my mother, Ron, me, John H., John V. (a friend of Ron's), and any number of other kids needing lessons in the value of hard work. We were supposed to pick cherries, but we often found better uses for the fruit. Throwing them was by far the most interesting.
We quickly learned which cherries hurt the most (Goldens) or stained the worst (any of the fat purple varieties). The lighter colored Napoleans had the advantage of being large with a nearly clear juice, though they were not as hard as Goldens or juicy as Windsors. Tart cherries were usually small (which made for greater difficulty in hitting the target) and often splooged on the hand of the thrower, thereby defeating the purpose.
Successful cherry throwers employed one of three techniques. Sharpshooter Ron threw a fast, accurate fruit that stung like the dickens upon hitting bare skin. I relied on the theories behind repeating rifles and semi-automatics: keep up a steady fire so Ron couldn't aim. John V. had a weenie arm, so he dipped hand into bucket for a handful of fruit to shotgun. John H. had no technique. He spent most of his time ducking from the three of us.
Our fights usually started because of my brother. Ron would fling a cherry at John H. bringing a heaped bucket through the block to the waiting lugs. This was where John was the most vulnerable. If he tried to retaliate, he would spill his load and not get off a good shot. Twisting and dodging out of the way also caused cherry spill. So John ran like a pregnant woman until he reached the dumping area, holding onto the top of his bouncing bucket to prevent spill as Ron pegged cherry after cherry at him.
Sometimes John would remove the bucket to go after Ron with a handful of cherries. This was not a smart move as Ron once struck out 14 batters in an "A" League American Legion game. He had a rising fastfruit and could nail you in the small of the back with a rock hard golden. John stood no chance when he went up against Ron in a fair fight. Therefore, the key was to catch Ron at a disadvantage. Ambush was the most popular. Waiting for Ron to get a full bucket was nearly the only way to nail him with a fat, juicy, Windsor. However, Ron could snap free from his bucket faster than anyone and pursue as quickly as a mountain lion after a hare, which is sometimes how we felt with Ron chasing us. He also threw accurately from the run, and could snap off a quick throw while still in harness. Because of this I started throwing sidearm and submarine from behind the protection of branches. The leaves acted like armor to lessen the sting.
We were also not adverse to ganging up on someone. John H. was the most popular target, as he was the boss's son. Once Ron and I sent him fleeing from the orchard with a concentrated fire. His white tee was stained in various purples and reds from the different varieties of cherries with which we nailed him. On days when the three of us had too many welts from Ron's throws, he would then be our target. We would lie in wait, hiding behind trees in a configuration so that no matter who he went after he would leave his back open to attacks from the rear. We also thumbnailed smiles on plump, dark cherries in order to make a better stain.
Naturally this serious pursuit was put to an end when my mother found out. Ron and I got the I'm-ashamed-of-you-I-thought-you-knew-better lecture. John H's mom was worse. She gave us an economics lesson. Each individual cherry had a specific value, and even if its worth was only 1/100 of one cent, all the cherries we wasted by throwing or spilling added up to real money. Since we got paid piecework, the nonproductive time spent throwing cherries deducted from our potential earnings as demonstrated by the graph on page 47 of the quarterly report. Or something like that. Even our arguments that we only threw cherries with brown rot on them had no effect, probably because she knew we were lying. When his mom left we usually managed to nail John a couple more times.
I still stand by my position advocating cherry fighting as a Cherry Festival event. However, with maturity I have broadened my scope. Today there are many fight games involving high tech equipment, such as laser tag and paintball. Cherry fighting is a viable alternative. The equipment is minimal: ripe cherries, stainable old clothing, and goggles so that nobody puts their eyes out. Not only would participants get fresh air and exercise running around in orchards, but cherries are natural, biodegradable, and nutritious. In how many sports can players safely eat their equipment?
Money could be made by turning cherry throwing into a sport, complete with teams, standings, and statistics. It would not only bring more tourist dollars to the region, but matches could be televised on ESPN2.
I have another plan that might just fire up the business community and their need for meetings. Business people could make tax deductible retreats to the orchard in order to fine tune their business skills by throwing fruit at competitors, co-workers, and friends. Farmers could charge exorbitant fees to host these meetings. Participants would get back to nature by living primitively in old migrant shacks. Cherries thrown at others would no longer be wasted.
And with that, the marketing potential skyrockets.
Larry currently lives in Richland, WA and works for an inventory service. He has been paid real money for short fiction, gags for cartoonists, button slogans, and a one shot zine created with a friend. He is a regular contributor to her home page and hopes to get his running soon. Larry is married and acquired his wife's three kids. You can e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.