One reason folklorists are so fond of arranging stories under categories they call “motifs” is that very seldom does a folktale stand on its own: it will almost always have variants, sometimes based on geography, usually the same story with different details.
A similar story to the one about Micah Rood’s apples is retold by the North Carolina journalist and collector of folklore John Harden in his second book, TAR HEEL GHOSTS (1954), a collection of ghost stories from North Carolina. The one we’re concerned with comes, Harden says, from Mecklenburg County, sometime in the post Civil War period.
Dr. Simmons (the name Harden gives the protagonist) cared for only three things in life: his rural medical practice, his orchard, and above all else his beautiful young daughter, Susanne. Left a widower when his daughter was about seven, he never remarried; he shared a country home with Susanne and a housekeeper called Aunt Mary. As Susanne grew older, the doctor’s love for his daughter seemed to take an obsessive turn: he would allow her to have friends for overnight visits, but she was never allowed to return them; if she wanted to go shopping, he took her to town in their buggy and refused to let her out of his sight; when she started college, she was only allowed to go as a day student and was driven to and from school by Aunt Mary’s son, Tom. Aunt Mary was heard to speculate that the reason the doctor was so possessive of his daughter was that she was the spittin’ image of her late mother. Nowadays we would speculate in other directions, especially when we learn about the end of Susanne’s one love affair.
When Susanne was about nineteen, she met a young man at a weekend house party she had somehow persuaded her father to allow her to attend. His name was George; he was smitten at first sight, and he courted the equally smitten Susanne assiduously. However, all hell broke loose when he made bold to ask Dr. Simmons for Susanne’s hand in marriage; George walked out the front door after an acrimonious conversation with the doctor—and vanished into thin air.
The doctor, of course, maintained that the young man had never cared for Susanne at all and had simply if cruelly broken off their relationship without a word; Susanne believed no such thing. As many a heartbroken young woman has done down through the ages, she shut herself up in her room and , when she did come out, refused to speak to her father at all. The doctor, meanwhile, went mad in the best Micah Rood tradition; he gave up his medical practice altogether and spent most of his time staring out over his now-neglected orchard. He was standing at that window when he dropped dead of a heart attack.
Aunt Mary remained to care for an increasingly frail and listless Susanne—and to keep the doctor’s dreadful secret. Aunt Mary knew what had happened to George, for she had stumbled into a settling patch under the most prized of all the doctor’s apple trees, a Golden Delicious, and knew it for a grave. As if that were not enough, forever after the fruit from that tree had streaks and blobs of red in its silky white pulp, like drops of blood.
Susanne only outlived her father by some fifteen years, dying of her broken heart in her mid-thirties. She left the house and orchard to Aunt Mary. One of the first things Aunt Mary did after she inherited the house was to have the Golden Delicious tree cut down. She said it obstructed the view, and anyway had not been producing good apples of late.
Curiously enough, the stump left of the great tree looked an awful lot like a tombstone.