Prepare to be transported to another place and time, to a time of fun and adventures, to the town of Apple Grove. When a sinister plan to shut down the Apple Grove Community Center is exposed, ‘Bug’ Beetle, Benny Churchill, Cindy Carter and Moe Harris leap into action. With a little help, they uncover who is behind the plan. When their backs are against the wall and it looks like there is no exit, the gang goes into high gear.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
The Apple Grove Gang series was inspired by a story that I told my daughters during a family vacation road trip. It bounced around in my head for several years until I spoke with a very prolific author who said I should put pen to paper.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I think that it is fair to say that the characters are a mixture of me, friends of mine, kids I knew when I was young and people I meet every day. I look for unusual qualities, funny expressions, anything that I think makes a person special.
1 BEST SUMMER EVER
June 5, 1960
The ring of the bell that marked the end of the last day of school, in the small town of Apple Grove was like the signal at the start of a horse race. All that was missing, was the man who called out at the sound of that bell, “They’re off” – For the summer!
Benny Churchill was the fastest runner in Mrs. Tyson’s fifth-grade class. Like always, he hit the front door of Apple Grove Elementary School as if a fullback rushing for the goal line. He carried his worn leather basketball cradled tight under his right arm. His left arm stretched outward to the front; he looked like an all-state running back.
“Come on Bug; let’s get to the community center. We need to be there first, and then we’ll have the court all night.”
Charlie Beetle had been Benny’s best friend since the first grade. Everyone called him “Bug”. His nickname came not so much because his last name was Beetle as much as it did because of his buglike appearance. Bug stood out from his classmates because he happened to be as gifted in height as Benny was with speed. At an even six feet tall and eleven years old, Bug looked like an insect.
He was all arms and legs, and a rosy complexion sprinkled with freckles. A couple of tufts of red hair, looked just like a bug’s antennae, sprouted from the top of his head. In motion, Bug’s legs got so tangled up that his arms flew out in front and to his sides, making you think at times of a daddy-long-legs spider or a stick bug. Either way, he was all arms and legs.
“Right behind you Benny. Let’s cut down the alley behind Pop’s market and then cross over at Grove Street. It’s the best way to get there,” yelled Bug.
“Okay, let’s do it!” Benny shot back.”
As the boys raced down the alley behind Pop’s market Bug called, “Quick Benny! In the back door; we’ll get an apple. Pops gets a produce delivery every Tuesday.” Benny pulled at the wooden screen door and quickly disappeared into the market.
“Hey Benny, wait…Whooooa, oh, oh, oh, ugh!” Bug went flying head over heels, arms and legs intertwined in a tangled mess.
Hearing the sound of wooden crates tumbling to the pavement, a man, walking down the sidewalk on Maple Street, stopped and looked, in the alley, towards where Bug, lay in a heap. He shook his head and asked, “Hey kid, are you okay? Do you need a doctor or something?”
“Ohhhh, I’m okay!” Bug had tried to jump over a waist high stack of crates, only managing to clear the bottom two and landing on the third. A pile of splinters was all that remained of the crate he had smashed.
Bug jumped to his feet and regained his bearings. He brushed himself off, pulled open the back door of the market and followed Benny inside. As he let go of the door, the long spring at the top pulled back hard and slammed the door behind him. Nailed to it was a rusting hunk of sheet metal that had a picture of an old farmer. He word a straw hat, and chewing a piece of grass, exclaimed how fantastic the soda pop he drank was. The sign shook and sounded like a rumble of thunder.
Once inside the back room of the market, the boys began searching through a mountain of fruit crates, delivered not fifteen minutes before they arrived: apples, oranges, plums, and peaches. It was like a fruit salad. On the end, of each crate was a beautiful label, as beautiful as a painting in an art museum.
Each label was a twelve inch by twelve-inch advertisement for the fruit inside the crate. There were “Golden Gate Grapes”, complete with a picture of The Golden Gate Bridge. “Full O’ Juice Oranges” with its mouth-watering picture of a freshly, peeled orange and a glass of just-squeezed, orange juice. There were about twenty or so others.
Bug ripped the top off a case of “Yakima Chief” Apples. The Indian Chief, dressed in full headdress, seemed to be watching their every move. Benny took two apples from the crate, tossed one to Bug, and began sampling the cold, crisp fruit.
Pretending not to know the answer, Bug yelled, “Hey, Pops, me and Benny are going to the center. Can we have an apple, huh Pops, can we?” Bits of apple fell from his mouth onto the smooth, well-worn, wooden floor of the back room of Pop’s market. Looking at Benny, Bug smiled from ear to ear and held his finger to his lips as if to tell Benny not to say anything.
Two giant wooden swinging doors, hung from sturdy metal hinges that allowed them to swing in either direction, separated the back room from the shopping area, of the market. Suddenly, with a crash, the doors swung open to reveal Bug’s dad. He was pushing a wooden cart mounted on four rugged metal wheels. Stacked high on the cart were half empty cases of canned fruit and vegetables and a couple of bags of Ken-L-Ration dog food. Bug’s dad’s eyes opened wide, when he saw Benny and Bug. He smiled and waved to them.
Vincent William Beetle, known as Pops, by everyone in Apple Grove, was a relatively small man if you did not consider his stomach. It looked like he had a basketball in his shirt. He wore baggy, black pants held up by a belt and suspenders, “just in case”, as Pops always said.
He clutched an unlit pipe in his teeth and wore a white apron, which hung loosely around his neck and tied at the back. The crown of his head was smooth and shiny and supported by a few wisps of brown hair and two ears that were small and pointed. He vaguely resembled an elf. When Pops talked, his pointed ears wiggled. A characteristic often imitated but never duplicated by the kids in town.
“Hello Julius, hello Charlie,” said Pops. He called every kid, except his own son, Julius; unless of course, you were a girl, in which case, he called you Alice. All the kids liked Pops because in front of his store, next to the checkout counter, stood an enormous, glass, display case. Inside the case, were colorful boxes of penny candy that left nothing to the imagination. Sitting on top was a clear jar full of pretzel sticks. They sold three for a penny. Right next to the pretzel sticks stood a box of Pixie Sticks, two cents for a pack of five. Pops sold everything: packs of baseball cards, wax lips, even bird call whistles that hid in your mouth and sounded just like a robin.
Every day after school let out, the kids from Apple Grove Grade Elementary School, would stop at Pop’s, on the way to play, at the Apple Grove Community Center. “They’re like a gang of frogs, always hopping around. Here, comes the Apple Grove Gang!” Pops would say as the kids lined up, pennies in hand, and waiting for his attention when it was their turn to buy candy.
Nose pressed against the glass, each of the kids pointed to the candy they wanted, and Pops would drop it into the little paper sack that the kids clutched in their hands when they left the market running. Pops would keep score for the kids as they chose their favorites.
“Let’s see, that’s five licorice whips, at a penny-a-piece. Okay, you have twenty-nine cents left, Julius. Double Bubble is three-for-a-penny that makes thirty-eight cents left, Alice.” Pops would continue this process for at least fifteen or twenty minutes until the last kid had had their pick of candy. You could tell by the smile on his face that Pops enjoyed this part of his day the most.
“Pops – the apples. What about the apples? Can we have one before we go to the center?” Asked Bug.
“Sure, help yourself to an apple. Take only one each, boys. They’re on sale this week, only nineteen cents. Make sure to tell your mother, Julius.”
“Okay Pops,” Benny answered, “I won’t forget to tell her. They’re only nineteen cents a pound.”
“Good, good, you boys run along now. Have fun, but get home before dark. Do you hear me? Home before dark.”
In unison, Benny and Bug responded, “Got it, Pops, home before dark.” Running out of the door, Benny and Bug each grabbed another apple and headed down the alley towards Grove Street.
“This is gonna be the best summer ever. I just know it, Bug.”
I was born in 1960 and raised in the Midwest. I have always been a reader, finding escape in the pages of a good book. I inhaled books during my days of extensive world travel. Before the Nook and Kindle, even before laptops became the norm, I would pack six or eight paperbacks for an extended trip.
I had never, ever considered writing until I contacted an author about a fabulous book of theirs. It was suggested that I should try my hand writing. Here I am! I can never thank this person enough for the joy I receive from writing.
I have been married 34 years. My wife and I have two beautiful daughters, Katie and Maddie.
Besides writing, I love to cook, travel and drive my Corvette. I have a dog, two cats and a rat named Arlo.
Have you read this book or others by this author? Tell us in the comments how you liked it!