“My troubles are all over, and I am at home; and often before I am quite awake, I fancy I am still in the orchard at Birtwick, standing with my friends under the apple trees.”
Anna Sewell, Black Beauty
Just behind the limestone farmhouse where I was raised outside of Lebanon, PA was a big, old apple orchard. At its high point there were well over 50 trees with varieties from red delicious (still my favorite) to crab apples, and from winesap to what we called big pound apples.
Bordering the orchard to the west was a field where we grew oats, alfalfa, wheat and barley. To the south was property owned by a neighbor. The eastern edge bordered one of our pastures, our house, and our large country garden where we grew lettuce, cabbage, radishes, carrots, peas, string beans, red beets, onion and lots and lots of butter and sugar sweet corn.
The country lane which went out to the road formed the western edge along with our large red corn shed where we stored the fall harvest of corn. Inside, we kept old equipment and the hammer mill and large mixer where we ground up corn for our cows, pigs, chickens, beef cattle, and a horse or two.
I remember the fragrance in the spring when those apple trees blossomed. I still remember bringing my mother bouquets of those sweet smelling, delicate branches, which I could barely reach to break off, for her to place in a Mason jar on the kitchen table. Even today the smell of apple blossoms transports me back to those carefree days of childhood.
I remember playing games in that old orchard. There was hardly a better place for a young farm boy and his siblings, along with an occasional neighbor or two, to run between those trees pretending to be “good guys and bad guys” and occasionally using some fallen fruit as ammunition.
A summer highlight was sleeping outside in our family tent which we would set up just behind the house next to that orchard.
Since we were dairy farmers and not apple growers, our old orchard didn’t get a lot of care. I don’t think we ever pruned those old trees. Over the years through neglect we lost one tree after another. For some reason, those trees were never that important to us, except for the homemade apple pie that my mother made each fall.
At an open space near the back of the orchard we had a huge brush pile where we gathered trash from the orchard as well as old tires and other burnable debris. Just about once a year we had big bonfire. As teenagers, I will never forget throwing an entire gallon of gasoline on that pile to get it started causing a huge mushroom cloud resembling an atomic blast. We decided never to do that again.
Near the front of the orchard was a cleared space large enough for a small homemade softball diamond. We even built a backstop and marked off the fence for the outfield where, if someone was fortunate enough to hit the ball hard enough to go over it, we called it a homerun.
Oh the memories I have of hurrying to finish our chores in the barn so we could gather on that makeshift softball field and play until the shadows of early evening forced us to stop. It didn’t matter that we had worked all day starting with the sunrise to milk the cows or that we had, more than likely baled hay or cultivated corn or filled the silo through the heat of the day. If we had had lights, we would have never wanted to stop trying to be Richie Ashburn or Dick Allen or Wes Covington, our heroes with the Philadelphia Phillies.
If that old apple orchard could speak, what tales it would tell.
Think about it.
Dr. Don Meyer is President ofValley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA
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