The startling news about a certain cookie changing its name prompted this boyhood memory . . .
Growing up I shared a bedroom with my younger brother, Kenny, who hated me intensely but seemed to accept everything I said as gospel. For example, I had him convinced that Sir Isaac Newton’s law of universal gravitation was helped along by a fig, not an apple.
The subject came up one hot summer night as we lay in our beds, unable to sleep, listening to figs drop from our neighbor’s trees onto the tin roof of our father’s workshop. The windows were open and the breeze was filled with the cloying scent of rotting figs.
[Boyhood tip: if you are ever asked to participate in a rotten fig fight, don’t.]
“Well, of course he used figs,” I said. “An apple would really, really hurt. I mean he was a scientist; he would know that.”
“Are you sure about that?” my brother said. “All the pictures show him being beaned by an apple.”
“That’s just an artist’s impression, and apples are easier to draw than figs.”
“There’s no guessing at all. I mean, why do you think they call them FIG NEWTONS?
My brother nodded, rolled over on his stomach for a few moments, and then rolled back up. “Lenny, what about William Tell and the apple? That was true, right?”
I couldn’t resist. “Well, no, not really. Let me put it to you this way. If our dad, our dad, was going to shoot fruit off your head, would you really want it to be an apple?”
“No, I guess not, and certainly not a fig.”
“No, you’d want something bigger, something enormous, something—”
“Watermelon!” he shouted.
He seemed satisfied by that, and rolled back onto his stomach. Several minutes passed, and the figs kept falling.
Then my brother popped up again. “Wait a minute. A watermelon would really, really hurt my neck, and besides, they’re much easier to draw than apples.”
“Go to sleep, Kenny,” I said. “Just go to sleep or I’ll tell you about Jack and the Celery Stalk.”
In case you missed it, Fig Newtons are now just Newtons.