As the iron weed begins to bloom and the light of the sun starts shifting to that wonderful golden glow we all love so much, I can feel the wind breathing life into the upcoming autumn days.
I remember growing up, some of my favorite autumn memories took place on the porch of a little apple house just north of Blue Ridge and a few houses down from my childhood home. I would spend the first part of my days in the schoolhouse learning arithmetic and how to write, and then the big yellow bus would drop me off a couple of driveways down from my home on the hill. Dad worked picking and grading apples at Mr. Joe’s orchard during the season and I absolutely loved spending cool autumn evenings with him while he was there. The air within those trees felt like it possessed just the slightest hint of magic, and would turn a nose red if it blew too cold. He would sit on a rickety little stool at the bottom of the grader sorting through the Red Delicious and Arkansas Blacks as I sat in a makeshift lounge of apple boxes reading whatever book I had grabbed from the library that week. Most commonly it was one of the Harry Potter novels, but sometimes I would slip in a classic like “Huckleberry Finn”. The porch smelled of…well…slightly old apples and fresh apple pies. Now you’d assume this was not a pleasant combination, but it tickled my nose and always made me smile. Dad would tell me stories of his childhood within the rows of old apple trees, and we would laugh and talk until the light began to fade behind the trees. When the day was done he would pack the apple boxes that were earlier my throne and we would ride to the very top of the trees to watch the sun set behind Big Frog mountain. Memories like that stay with you forever…and they begin to shape who you are.
Now, mayhaps over a decade later, and still I spend my days in the rows of those magic filled trees. Dad ended up taking over the orchard when Mr. Joe decided to retire, and now he gets to do what he loves most. You see, dad actually went to college and got a degree in English Lit, but he wasn’t sure what he was going to do with it, he just knew he loved it. So why isn’t he teaching you might ask? Well, around two years ago the stress of the world began to catch up to him and then one night soon after he got a call from Mr. Joe. Old Joe had decided that he was ready to do other things in his golden years and that he was thinking of putting the orchard up for sale and he would love nothing more than to keep that orchard in the family. Dad still says to this day it had to be a sign from the gods. So here we are…we spend the evenings walking the rows in the golden light— orange leaves reflecting it across the mountains in the distance.
We rise early to prepare the pies and the warm cider for the eager visitors looking for a small piece of a simpler existence. And true to old Joe’s request, it’s a family affair. Mom and I work in the kitchen baking recipes that have been passed down for generations while dad spends time telling stories and slicing apples for the visitors. The grandparents even come to lend a hand on busy days to simply greet folks with a honest Appalachian smile and give directions to their favorite places and pass samples out to reaching hands. Mr. Joe still comes around of course; he’s the best tractor ride chauffeur and storyteller anyone could ever ask for. He tells the stories of how he and my grandfather spent their evenings during the early 1950’s grafting trees in the basement to start an orchard on his new land. The land actually belonged to my great great great grandfather but he sold it to Joe for a bargain shortly after he and Mary Jo were married (That’s a story that involves a candy apple red ’54 chevy, shoe shining, and a wee bit of sneaking around. It’s a tale one can hear only while on a wagon ride amongst the trees.). It’s a beautiful thing…the stories you hear within the trees, because every person in the family has their own story to tell. Mr. Joe speaks of his trees, Papaw of the truck rides through the rows performing “pest control”. My dad recalls his time spent reading and running through the trees and how you can count the rings of those old trees as a marker for his own life, and I tell my very own stories which you happen to have come across here. That’s why this land will always hold a special place in our hearts. We are inherently rooted (just like these old trees) to the soil on this Appalachian hillside, and why we love the autumn season oh so very much. It’s the time in which the orchard comes to life (and honestly, it’s when our own souls come most alive as well) and we are proud to be able to create stories for those generations after us keeping the magic of the trees and our family alive .