The Schoolhouse Orchard

August 6, 2012

Where is springtime? A very mild March pushed our season forward 14-16 days and now we nervously watch the thermometer as it dips toward freezing. At Harewood where most of the fruit and all of the big boxwood are grown, the men are doing all sorts of jobs. This morning the temperature was in the 31-34 degree category. We know that in bloom season peaches are killed at 28.6 degrees. Now the peaches and apples have bloomed and they have no protection, they are naked and I feel that we start losing fruit at 32 degrees. I can never remember us doing so many different things, here in the month of April.

The Old Schoolhouse about 1903
Clustered on the front bench are Dad (second from left) and several of his siblings, scattered throughout are more of Dad’s siblings and playmates. Yes, there were 26 there, probably studying in every grade up to high school. The old log one room schoolhouse is now long gone. An orchard planted there bears its name, “The Schoolhouse!”

Catfish, the foreman, was in the orchard with his plastic child’s bat. He told me they were thinning peaches, pulling off the little ones and breaking up the clusters. Early thinning along with sufficient water is the key to big fruit. He was checking to see if he could have his crew use the little bats to shatter peaches from the twig which is much faster. He thought in a couple of days he could begin and that is exactly two weeks earlier than normal. In another breath he said that we will be picking peaches by June 1st, the earliest in our farm’s history. The peaches and apples are now about the size of marbles.

In the distance, I can see snow on “Spy Rock,” a mountain peak there along the crest of the Blue Ridge. This is a rock peak that has tremendous views of the valleys below and is a favorite destination of the boy scouts on their hikes. Snow in April! I am not sure if I have ever seen it in April before now, the 24th of April. There nearby, is “The Priest,” another famous mountain top, keeping its eternal vigil on the orchards and woodland. This is one of the mountains we see first as we return home from the flat country. These mountains seemingly beckon to us, “Come home Son!”

Workers are scattered about the farm, a crew is spraying weeds, another is digging plants, and another is laying drip irrigation lines. I swung by to see the boxwood topiaries. Bennett told me last week to see them as the pruners are doing a lot of shaping and manicuring; spirals, pom poms, and cones; and a new chapter in our nursery. Bennett is in London meeting with boxwood experts from Europe as they try to learn about a new disease, boxwood blight, which was first seen in Europe some years ago and has now been detected in the US. In making my loop around the farm, I found two of our faithful workers who had separated one of our John Deere tractors in its midsection in order to replace a part of the clutch. And it was 65 years ago that we began propagating boxwood.

On around the farm to the orchards and as I entered the Fuji orchard, I saw the sprayer near the road so I turned around and drove over to the exact spot of the old schoolhouse. Here in a log schoolhouse Dad and his brothers had gone to school and as I thought I remembered the picture of the old schoolmaster with his flock. Aunts and uncles all there for their school picture. The year was about 1903 and there was one school house, one room, one teacher. Dream some more—trips to the spring for the big boys to replenish the water bucket at the spring and that was fun. Slate and chalk, hopscotch and marbles, horseshoes, baseball and love for each other. You better believe there was discipline there at school and at home, and a few of the tall tales still hang around. If you got a spanking at school, chances are you would get one at home as soon as the moms and dads found out.

Over the years we heard all sorts of stories, all were interesting, most of them never happened. Just cutting up by youngsters and that has surely not changed over the years. There was a ploy by some that they didn’t want to go to school anymore. Maybe that is one of the things that has never changed in the past many years as well. They were going to burn the school house down. One of them was to “accidentally” turn over the water bucket. That done, then a second was to trip on the stove foot, and with the stove on the floor, they would have a fire. Well, that one didn’t happen.

Apple blossoms, the cemetery, and just beyond the Schoolhouse Orchard.

But there was one that did happen. One of the girl’s mothers was an excellent cook. Each day she provided a fine piece of pie for her daughter. One of the other children found out about the pie and began raiding her lunchbox each day on the way to the water bucket. How do you catch someone who goes out and raids your lunch while you are studying? The little girl’s mother devised a means. One day the mother put a good dose of ipecac on her daughter’s piece of pie. About mid morning one of the boys went outside vomiting, the little girl who had been losing her pie exclaimed, “There’s my pie, there’s my pie.” There was no more trouble.

There is no sign of the old schoolhouse, it is a Fuji apple orchard today and a mere hundred or so yards away south, along the grassy ridge, is a cemetery. There buried is the little girl who lost her pie and my Dad and our family. Within a short distance of each other are buried the six Saunders brothers, one died in 1915 when he was about 30 years old. He had two little boys but Typhoid Fever stole him away from being the father to teach his boys so much about life. The remaining five brothers formed a partnership to last for a lifetime. They named their partnership Saunders Bros., a name that some of the grandchildren generations later would choose for their partnership.

I wonder, did those old timers ever see snow on Spy Rock in late April?
So long for now!

Paul

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Oh, America, How beautiful you are!

August 6, 2012

A crew pruning a block of apple trees that are in bloom.

Last Thursday, Tatum and I pulled out of our driveway and headed westward. Almost due west we went on Interstate 64, through the rugged mountains of West Virginia, then the blue grass country of Kentucky, and onward. Crossing time and again the rivers that make up part of the mighty Mississippi, the New River became the Kanawha, then the Ohio, then came the southern tip of some of the richest farmland of the Midwest. Along the way we saw buttercups blooming along farm driveways, oil wells lazily pumping, then the lavender red bud, blooming like they have for thousands of years, and this year they seem to be prettier than ever. Rich green fields of Indiana and Illinois reminded me of the strength of this, “The Heartland of America”—I whispered out loud, “Oh America, how beautiful you are!” God did, ”shed his grace on Thee.”

Westward we went on my annual pilgrimage to St. Louis, to a spot “next door” to the home of one of the largest “Indian” populations in North America, the complex at Cahokia. Once, there were at least 20,000 people living there. Some estimate there were tens of thousands more than that. Today it is more politically correct to call them “Early Americans” than Indians. (ps. I still call them Indians.) They raised crops on the fertile lands of the Mississippi, just south of the Missouri River. Here, across the Mississippi River from the giant archway of St. Louis, is Cahokia where Indian artifact collectors meet annually to trade, to buy, to sell, and to display their Indian artifact collections. In a very real sense this is Lewis and Clark country, they traveled both rivers, and St. Louis was a stopping off place in their travels. These waterways were the super highways of their day for the Indian and the fur traders. They provided a way for them to scoot around in their canoes and provided fish, ducks and geese, and here was all sorts of wildlife for food.

It’s mindboggling to imagine what this place used to look like in its heyday a few hundreds of years ago.It was in high gear about 1100 AD., the largest Indian civilization north of Mexico. The fields of Cahokia now are dotted by the remnants of Indian mounds, where thousands of relics and paraphernalia of that culture are undoubtedly entombed. The largest mound, Monks Mound, is about 950 feet long and 800 feet wide and 100 feet high and is the largest earth mound in North America. I shut my eyes and try to imagine how it was. The Indians discovered the fertile soils along the river were very productive and there they often built their camps. A few miles away is an agricultural dreamland where farmers years ago began developing fields seemingly without end, where the rows may be a mile long. Now farmers smile as they talk about yields in their corn fields of 160‐180‐200 bushels per acre.

There we were, Tatum and I goofing off. At home the sons were spraying the fruit and digging boxwood. The warmth of springtime was speeding up the blooming of the peaches. They were in full bloom on March 18, Dad’s birthday, which was about two weeks early. Oh, how I remember Dad during times like this, how he would have worried about the peach crop. And he, like other farmers, was betting on the crop to pay on some of the farm debt. He told me how he and his four brothers, skimped and, sacrificed, and, in turn, taught me a priceless lesson in farm economics: when there was something that we did not have to have, he simply said in a firm tone, “Son we can’t afford it!” When he said this, I never questioned. It did no good to beg, although he often told me why. But the main thing, “Son we can’t afford it!” He and his brothers made it by sacrificing “wants” for needs and he paid for the farm mortgage before he died.

And now, Dad has been gone for over 40 years. What would he say if he were to see the changes in farming? Four wheel tractors, hugging the ground as they climb the hillsides carrying boxes with twenty bushels of apples. The old orchards of 40 trees per acre have given way to the high‐tech orchards of 300 trees per acre of today. It used to be that we used bushel crates for harvest. Dad planted all the peach orchards owning neither a truck nor tractor. He planted them based on faith. There were days just after World War II when raising small grain was a challenge. Cut it with a binder, shock it, take it to the barn for threshing, and then thresh it‐‐‐ so much, dust, dirt, and sweat. These were the days of tobacco, the money crop of early America, and we do not grow any now. What would Dad have said if he could see farming of today? Dad would have cried so softly, as he was easily overcome by emotion, “Son, I can’t believe it.”

All the while, this spring has exploded forth into summertime. Grass is growing and it looks like a good hay season since we have had so much rain. We are as busy now as we are in harvest time. So much to do; planting the young trees, trying to get some weed control out, spraying the fruit, and many other jobs that are crucial to the farm. Take away two weeks of springtime, the time we have lost to these temperatures, and the boys have to work “double‐time,” hoping and praying for no frost. And for sure there will be more bumps in the road this summer including stink bugs.

This morning as I made my rounds over the farm I noticed a crew pruning the apple trees which were coming into bloom. The same thought came to me that came to me a week earlier, Oh America, how beautiful you are. It is days like this, with Mother Nature showing off, that sooths the soul!

So long for now,
Paul Saunders

In Bolivia 1955 – A Farm Boy’s Story

August 6, 2012

Originally told in January 1955
Camiare, Beni, Bolivia, South America

During the Christmas Season I found a box that my mother had put away for me many years ago. In it were stories that I had written home of my experiences when I was a participant in the International Farm Youth Exchange to Bolivia in 1955.
This was one of my first letters home. Of course it has been 57 years since I was there and I have never returned. I have edited the original letter a bit and added a paragraph at the end. Hope you enjoy it.

I arrived at my first farm, Camiare, a 100,000 Acre ranch on January 13. The topsoil here is 7 feet deep, the rainfall during December, January, and February averages over 60 inches, the climate is warmer than southern Florida, there are few trees except at the streams, the grass is tall enough to hide a steer and is very thick. I saw an Indian cowboy stand upright on the top of his saddle in order to spot the cattle in the field –then hurry off in a gallop to lasso them and herd them to the corral. To put it very short, it’s the kind of land and climate that you read about – – – to me it looks like a paradise for agriculture. Unbelievable!!

A Indian is tying one of the steers to the fence so he can be handled and managed on is way to the slaughter house. Behind him are more cattle that will be driven as well.

Friday the people here at Camiare took us on a cattle round up. Twenty-one of us on horseback took part in it. It made many of our western movies a reality to me. The cattle, or longhorn steers, that we were putting in the corral had been on pasture for about five years and we brought them into the slaughtering plant in the center, to a settlement on this huge ranch called, Camiare. The horses that we rode are quarter horses, the lassos were made of rawhide since there was much leather available at the slaughterhouse and it really handles better than rope. The cowboys were barefooted and wore leather chaps. Most of the cattle that we were after were the very wild ones who had been here a long time and hid from us along the riverbanks. Some of the cowboys would ride into the bushes and chase the cattle out, others would lasso them, tie them to a bush or tree so they wouldn’t get away. This was done to tire the cattle so they would be easier to handle.

The cowboys home on the banks of the Rapulo River. Looking very closely you may see at least one revolver hanging by the door.

We ate dinner at a little Indian village. The houses were made of bamboo, the roofs were made from palm leaves, the food was cooked over an open fire, beef of course. The meal that we had there was tasty. The stable for their horses was only a few feet from their homes. We ate alongside the Rapulo River, a tributary of the Amazon, and while we ate, some of the Indians caught piranha, the fish with the razor sharp teeth. The bait was little ½ inch square chunks of beef. The Indians dared not get their fingers too close to these vicious fish as they got them off the line. A school of piranha reportedly could eat a wounded crocodile in 90 seconds. They told us that in the cattle drives when they had to cross a river, that they would wound one of their worst animals, slicing big wounds that would pour blood, Chase the animal into the stream, then let the piranha attack it. Sacrifice the wounded steer to the piranha and then quickly drive the herd across the stream at another point while the piranha converged on the wounded animal.

Camiare had no roads or telephones to the outside world, only trails for horses. Transportation to the far away places was by a salvaged B-17 airplane of the World War II period which traveled from La Paz to Camiare daily. A short wave radio provided communication. The B-17 from La Paz brought in the needed supplies whether it be sugar, a disassembled jeep, or typewriters for the office. Its load or cargo to La Paz always consisted of beef or leather. A carcass of beef in La Paz was worth $15.00.

Riding through the lush grass pastures at Camiare

The slaughterhouse was kept exceptionally clean. Most of the Indians that work there were barefooted and it enabled them to use the water more freely in the processing the steers.
Both the Indian and the Spanish people at Camiare were very hospitable, friendly, and industrious. The people lived in villages according to what they did. There is “Cowboy Town”, “Butcher Town”, and “Transportation Town”, and the other people in charge of the work live in a little village near the slaughterhouse. The runway for the airport came directly in front of the slaughterhouse, and there the plane was loaded and unloaded.
This is truly really a land of contrasts; the snow capped Andes and then jungles. Saturday the natives here used an oxcart to load an airplane. Coming from La Paz to Camiare we started off at 13,500’ and then climbed to 20,000’ to get over the peaks of the Andes, then landed 30 minutes later at an elevation of 800’. At the city of La Paz the elevation is 12,000’. The graveled surface airport is located on a plateau, 1000’ higher than city.
Disease, the Andes Mountains, the Brazilian jungles, a slow means of transportation, and a market for their products has held these people back. But now with the help of modern medicine and air travel these conditions might change. Santa Gertrudis, Brahma, and Brangus cattle might soon replace the Longhorn on another great cattle range. It has been said by many people here who know, “The land that is drained by the headwaters of the Amazon could be the ‘bread basket’ of the free world in years to come.” Its soils could furnish the food for over a billion people.

One of the things I remember while reading and studying this area is the tremendous price and struggle human life made in trying to build a railroad in the Amazon Country. A railroad was built during the late 1800s. It was built to skirt the rapids on the Madeira River and enable goods to flow out of Bolivia, notably rubber. Thousands perished.
 

Another land, another people, a long time, what has 57 years brought?
So long for now,
Paul

Apple Butter Makin’ – Nov. 2011

August 6, 2012

Moose stirs the little kettle. In the distance, two of the local musicians join the fun, singing the songs of the yesterdays.

Yesterday I saw Pablo carrying two apple butter kettles in the back of his pickup. Someone last night brought some dry oak wood and today is Apple Butter Makin’ at the Farm Market. Probably no single thing defines country living here in Orchard Country any more than apple butter makin’. This morning I woke up at 4:30 am. I remembered that the gang told me they were going to start the fires at 2:00 am, but after seeing it was a cold morning, I climbed back in bed; I wanted it to get a little warmer. When 6:30 came, same thing, a typical fall morning, it was still cold. I crawled back in bed again and thought, I have been there in the early morning on other years, and I will be 78 years old this week, it’s a Saturday morning and Tatum will fix me breakfast here at the house. I will go down to check on the gang after a little while.

The Apple Butter Crew is probably eating sausage biscuits from the local country store. It was a big breakfast for me; a piece of toast, a banana, an Asian pear, eggs and bacon. Then I went on to the packing shed to check on the crew. The fires were hot, popping hot, and the crew had the two pots going, one a giant kettle which someone said held 100 gallons. Sheila who owned the kettle, confirmed this. The other kettle was about half that size.

Pablo, everybody’s handyman, with the big kettle, a 100 galloner, and the stirrer. Note the cross-arm on the stirrer.

They got the fire under the big one going about 2:00 am, then the little one about 4:30 am so that they would have apple butter ‘coming off’ at different times. Apples in the big kettle were now sauce-y and were turning a tannish color; the kettles were “cooking down.” And this is part of the process; the boiling kettles over the hot fires caused the boiling apples to pop and splatter and steam was coming off both kettles.

Guys were stirring the boiling apples. Their strokes up and back with the big stirrer, back and forth, then around the kettle, never stopping, methodically stirring. One set of tired muscles turns over the stirring to another set that have been resting. You cannot stop stirring; you do not want the apple butter to have a burnt taste, so you keep on stirring. Little boys came in to help; they worked in pairs, smiling at their papas and mamas as they stirred the mix. Soon their brothers would relieve them and then the others would come back to stir some more.

This year it was “Moose” Stratton, whose wife works here in the office, that Jim declared the Overseer of the Apple Butter Making. Big and steady, big enough and strong enough to have played on the Offensive Line of a college football team, he anchored the work force. Calmly he gave directions, and the gang there listened. Everybody was yelling “When will it be ready Moose?” Moose took a giant spoon and examined the hot mix and calmly answered. “Going to be another hour or so before we can take it off.”

Moose and Andrew scoop up apple butter and put it in jars. Jars on the left are being filled under the supervision of Amy, Jim’s wife. The production line forms, fill the jars, cap them, slide them down the line to others who will put on the label and store them for the market.

Finally time came to take it off. Gotta let the fire die down, but must keep on stirring. And now the payoff: scoop up the hot apple butter and put it in the glass jars. Some who had waited at the Farm Market for this moment, grabbed jars to take home, tasty home-made apple butter that they had just seen cooked.
A joyful day on the farm!

So long for now,

Paul Saunders

Memories of World War II

August 6, 2012

My most vivid memories of childhood are of World War II. I had just turned eight years old a month earlier and was in the third grade when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Yes, I have recollections of the years before, but the images of Pearl Harbor and World War II flood my mind.

Bennett Massie, a cousin, who flew in a B-25, was a combat survivor of North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. His experiences brought the war so close to our family. He came home with three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star. I was at home alone that night in 1949, when I heard the terrible news that he was killed when the B-29 he was training in crashed in the Midwest. He was a super guy..

The afternoon of December 7, 1941, began for us as a normal Sunday afternoon. Our church service began at 2:00pm and I was there. Mother and Daddy took us to church every Sunday. One of the members of our church, George Hilbish, who ran the big country store at Piney River, was at his store getting ready to come to church when the radio program he was listening to was interrupted. We were into the 3:00pm preaching service when Mr. Hilbish came into the church auditorium and walked straight up the aisle and whispered to the preacher. Our preacher relayed the message to the congregation, “The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor.” I had no idea what all of this meant, other than we were at war. Daddy had told us of having been in France with the American Army in World War I.

The following day, President Roosevelt convened Congress to deliver one of the most famous speeches in American history. With tens of thousands listening, America stunned, the world nervous, President Roosevelt told a shocked world, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy—“…The speech was broadcast time and again over the radio networks. I still remember it and can recite parts of it. The newsreels in the movie theaters showed the billowing smoke of the damaged ships. It was the call to arms for America! America declared war on Japan, Germany, and Italy on December 11. Germany and Japan were partners and Germany had been raising havoc with our old allies of World War I days, Great Britain and France. Most of the nations in Europe and Asia were now at war.

Radios in the homes were kept on most of the day for news from the war front. Suppertime had to be before 6:30 when the news came on. Daddy strained to hear what was happening overseas and as time went on the rest of us clustered around near him and we all listened just as intently. Sometimes the static was so great it was difficult to hear anything. Commentators like Lowell Thomas and Edwin R. Murrow brought news from the war front. During those first few months, America had little to cheer about.

Telephone service in those days was largely through party lines; where often there were as many as six or more customers on one line. About everyone on the line knew what was happening to the other folks; just pick up the receiver and listen. As more and more picked up their phones to eavesdrop, hearing became more difficult. Many homes did not have phones, and messages had to be hand carried to homes by neighbors. Everyone was patriotic. Cousins, brothers, and kinfolk and friends were off to war. Western Union operators in the little railroad villages brought the terrible news from the war front, “We regret to inform you that your [son] has been reported missing”…. [or killed]. As these terrible messages penetrated into the hearts of families and friends, a big void opened; we became stunned. We realized, this is truly happening, this is the real thing. A deadly war was on, the likes of which, no one had ever seen!

A small layout of the landing beach at Normandy– in the distance is the English Channel. This shows where the American troops came under the intense fire of the German machine gunners on the beach.

Most of the able bodied labor force went off to war. Some were drafted, others volunteered, and some who were not drafted because of religious beliefs were placed in non-combat situations. Some of those who lived on farms stayed home to produce food for feeding the armies. Some went to the ship yards and vital war time industries; often their stay there was interrupted by a message from the draft board, “Report to the Induction Facility for a medical examination for military service.” And there were others who were offered the chance to return home from the army to civilian life because of dire situations at home. One of my friends was offered the opportunity to come home but he told his commanding officer, “Sir, I choose to stay here with my buddies, I cannot let them down.”

The speed limit during war time was reduced from 50 to 35 miles per hour to conserve gasoline. Gasoline, liquor, and sugar were rationed and ration books with postage-stamp size coupons were provided by the government. Homeowners were encouraged to have large vegetable gardens, called “Victory Gardens!” Homemakers canned bushels of garden vegetables and fruit. School children carried aluminum items; pots, pans, to the high school collection stations where it was shipped away to build airplanes. Scrap paper was tied in bundles and carried to school where it was sent to be re-cycled. Iron was salvaged from junk piles and melted to build tanks and battleships.

There were War Bond auctions at the school where some of the patriotic folks offered prizes for those who bought war bonds and stamps. School was let out in late September for two weeks so the children could help harvest the apple crop. The 4-H Clubs helped collect the white pods of milkweed for flotation life jackets. Some collected the blackish-green hulls from ripening walnuts to make camouflage dye. Dummy anti-aircraft guns were placed on many roof tops in Washington, D.C. so as to confuse the enemy spies as to our homeland’s defense. The American Cyanamid plant’s whistle at Piney River signaled black-out drills. Mother had a bed and breakfast in our home,( called a tourist home in those days) and we met many servicemen and their families. One of the soldiers had escaped a German prisoner of war camp. The details of his escape were a secret.

Not only did we see so many of our community go away to war, we saw hundreds, thousands of servicemen riding the trains and the buses as they traveled from camp to camp and home on furlough. We saw convoys of military vehicles traveling along Route 29, and occasionally there would be excitement when a tank went by carried by a tractor-trailer. In February 1943, part of the 36th [Texas] Division came to Lowesville to train for the Italian campaign. We learned the names of many battlefields, Anzio, Stalingrad, Okinawa, Iwo Jima, Guam, Normandy and Bastogne. In the end, we won the war.
Even today when told by those who were there as to what happened, I shiver, I marvel, and I still become almost intoxicated with the events as they tell them. There was tremendous patriotism; great soldiers, great mothers and fathers, great leaders and a great President. Do the American people today have the grit, the patriotism that helped us win World War II? Sometimes I wonder. All of this left a very deep impression on my childhood and millions of those of us who witnessed, “The Greatest Generation?”
So long for now,
Paul Saunders

Gully Washer on Silver Creek

August 19, 2011

Beautiful Silver Creek, a little mountain stream with native brook trout, flows from the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Here it passes beneath Route 56 near Tyro on the road to Crabtree Falls.

In the black of night on August 14, 2011, Silver Creek went wild.  John, Ruth, and the three children had been to the community market in Lynchburg.  They had left home before light the previous morning, their produce trucks packed with peaches, apples, and corn to sell.  They returned home on Saturday afternoon, exhausted from the long day and went to bed.  The next day was church day, a day of rest, and, for John a day to get an extra long nap.  He would be busy picking Gala apples come Monday.

Silver Creek flowing through part of the apple orchard

During the night John and his family slept.   John woke several times from the deep sleep of a tired man and heard the rain.  John heard the crunching sound of boulders rumbling, tumbling, bouncing over each other as the soaked forest and orchard soils pushed downward and leaped the banks pushing Silver Creek out of its banks and into the orchards.  John kept on sleeping; lots of water makes  big apples. The water chose the path of least resistance; be it a road or field, or John’s garden.   In places the water flowed down some of the orchard roads making deep ruts.   In other places, it spread out over the garden, washing tomatoes downstream a half mile.

Emma, John’s daughter, stands on the spot where about 50 tandem-dump loads of material was washed there by the high water and was later used to repair the ravaged roads.

Early on Sunday morning, John and this family looked out of their window to see the ravages of Silver Creek gone wild.  The road was near impassable with deep ruts.  About a fourth of the garden had been hit. It was a mess.  At the back step were the big harvest buckets that he had used to harvest his tomatoes and vegetables a couple of days earlier.  The buckets, empty the night before, were running over with water. A ruler showed over 11 inches of water in the bucket.

The bucket of water with the ruler measuring over 11 inches.

How much had fallen was anybody’s guess.  The top of the bucket was larger than the bottom, it was not a perfect cyclinder.  Did it rain 7 inches or 13? Since the bucket was overflowing, we will never know, we will just call it a 11 incher and go with that. Regardless, it was a gully washer!

To many of the old timers, the rain and destruction reminded them of the destruction of Camille which occurred some 40 plus years earlier.  To some, they might call it a mountain freshet.

Water surrounds John’s refrigeration truck. Through a miracle the trailer did not wash away, nor did the fruit boxes that were stacked alongside it.

The road to John’s home! On the left is his garden, part of which caught the brunt of the high water.

The water played havoc with the garden.

To all it was Silver Creek gone wild.Tonight, all is quiet at Silver Creek.  Tomorrow morning the little trout will again be searching the crystal clear pools for their breakfast in the stream with a mystical name.

So long for now,

Paul Saunders

The Blakes of the 70s

August 17, 2011

Tatum and a basket of Blakes, 1974

[This is the story of one of the magnificent peaches, the Blake.  This was the Cadillac peach of the 1970s when freezing peaches was so popular.  The photos and the story are of that era.  It is still one of the premium peaches that we grow now and will be available at the farm market for a few days.] 

Probably no peach variety lit up the eyes of the customer more than the beautiful yellowish-red Blake.  Its color made it irresistible to the customer, and when fully ripe, it gained its full sweetness. Some of our Elberta orchards were bulldozed out and replanted with Blake, because Blakes were so beautiful and brought premium prices. The big limitation was, how many Blakes could our picking crews’ harvest?   In 1967 when Elbertas were bringing about $3.00 a carton, if you could get even that, Blakes were in tremendous demand and were bringing $5.00.

This shows Blake peaches and frozen jelly made from them. This was ‘peaches at their best’, hands down! Hundreds of customers came to the shed to get Blakes for freezing. No other variety could touch the Blake in its beauty and its ability as an excellent freezing fruit. It was however a difficult peach to grow as the skin often cracked when it was nearly mature.

The Blake peach was developed in the plant breeding program at Rutgers University in New Jersey.   It developed into the best peach for homeowners to freeze, and it became an instant favorite. Blake came into the market in Virginia in the 1960s. The fruit was a bit tart and it was red around the seed, giving the syrup in peach canning and freezing a bright red color.  Because it was tart, it did not require ascorbic acid when freezing as did most varieties. Early in the season, the fruit was brought to the packing shed in twenty bushel bins; those suitable for canning had to be sorted out and placed in half-bushel boxes.

Picking the Tree Ripe Blakes -Bennett is wearing a white baseball cap in the foreground, and Cecil Bennett, a picking crew leader from Florida, is on the left. John is on the right keeping tally on the number of boxes each picker harvested. The pickers were picking the half-bushel boxes of peaches for those who wanted peaches for freezing. This was usually the last picking where the fruit had been allowed to stay on the tree longer; and it had become riper, sweeter and was ideal for freezing.

Pickers empty their bags of Blakes into the bin boxes in the orchard. The opening in the bottom of their bags reduces the bruising of the peaches.

At times, those wanting Blakes had to stand in line at the shed because the grading sorters could not pick them out fast enough for the demand.  Numbers were given to the customers as they waited their turn in line to get their fruit.

John loading a car with fruit

This is just another chapter in the story of peach picking time of nearly 40 years ago at Piney River.  Yes, the Blakes are now ripe!

So long for now,

Paul Saunders

Her name was Delphia Rucker

July 29, 2011

Delphia Rucker

Along life’s pathway we meet a multitude of people.  Some throw themselves into the mix of life with a “I don’t care, you owe me attitude,” a gimmie attitude. They have taken the road of least resistance; they have done just enough to get by while leaning heavily on others.  They depend especially on the federal government to feed their family and provide for them and their offspring, regardless. There are others, the salt of the earth folk, the backbone of America who are great fathers and mothers who work hard and want to be the living example of what they want their children to be.  Their word is their bond, they look you straight in the eye, and they pay their bills.  Then there are those who were born of meager circumstances but do the very best they can, persons that might be called the forgotten. The Forgotten’s lives are often entwined in a mutually deep love with another person, a devotion to those who are really their shepherd, and certainly they are the Forgotten’s best friend. Such was the case of Delphia Rucker, one of the Forgotten.  It was at her grave that her simple and untainted life registered as having been a good one. Here is part of her story.

At eleven o’clock one sunny June day some years ago, I attended the funeral of Delphia Rucker. Just a part of the people with whom she had spent the last 90 years of her life were there for the funeral.   That’s correct, the last 90 years of her life! Most of the family members that she had lived with, she had seen buried. Those left were only a handful.  Those there that day by the graveside came because of a deep love for this special person. Some of them had been Delphia’s shepherds.

If Delphia had lived until August 1, she would have been a hundred years old.  August 1st was the day that Lillian Wright, a lady that Delphia had gone to live with had given to Delphia as her birth date. Delphia really did not know when she was born, nor did anyone else.  Social Security had traced her birth to the year, but not the exact date.  Mrs. Wright explained to this humble woman that there was an old man who once lived in her household who had a birthday on August 1, and now that this old man had died, why not accept and celebrate his birth date as hers?  Delphia agreed.

Let’s go back some 50 maybe 60 years before she got a birthday.  Delphia had been put in an orphanage as a little girl.  In those days it was called the “poor farm.”  She was about seven years old around 1900 when she was adopted to go to live with a farm family.  There she grew up, lived, cooked, cleaned house and performed the menial tasks of houskeeping.  She was deeply devoted to these people and in turn was loved by them.  She was with that family during the hard years of the Great Depression.  

There was much sorrow in this family where she lived. One of the sons died tragically in young manhood.  He was found one cold morning frozen to death where he had fallen beside a country road. Delphia lived about 50 years with her adopted family, and as members of that family died, when seemingly there was no place to go,  Delphia  moved on to other homes and families.  And then one day when most of the generation that she had known so well was gone, a preacher took Delphia to live with his family.

 So for most of the remaining years of her life, it was with the sweet blessings of this minister’s family that she lived.  One Saturday morning he baptized her. A member of her original family left money in their will to bury this faithful servant and money to buy her tombstone and a burial plot.  Two weeks before she died he had visited her in a nursing home.  It was he who preached her funeral.

What the old preacher said the last time he saw Delphia, we will never know.  Maybe it was something like this:  “Good bye Delphia, you have been so good to many families including us.  Someday Delphia, you will go to sleep, and when you wake up, you will be in heaven with Jesus like we have talked about.  God Bless you Delphia, and soon I will come to heaven and be there with you and we can talk some more about the good times.  Good bye Delphia, we love you!   Jesus will take care of you.”  

 She understood!

So long for now,

Paul Saunders  

A Man Named Emmett

July 15, 2011

Emmett at the sorting grader! Here he inspected the fruit just before it entered the packing machine.

For over fifty years we knew each other, precious years of love and respect.  We worked together and fished together. When I was a young boy we walked to his garden on the creek to check his steel traps for ground hogs that were robbing his garden.  It was Emmett that Daddy would trust me with when I was a little boy,  to go down on the river after a summer’s rain to catch catfish and chubs.  He  loved to squirrel hunt,  and he was a crack shot with his 22 rifle.  When he was around, we always knew he had a sharp pocket knife if we needed it.  In later years he loved to go up in the mountains to go trout fishing,

Each Sunday he and his wife, Eliza, went to church in his pickup.  They sat near the back of the little country church smiling as we took up the collection.   He earned enough money to buy land adjoining the farm. Eventually he and his brother and some friends built a house for him, Eliza, and his two young daughters. Later David was born, and  Emmett was so proud.    On his farm he cut logs and had them sawn into lumber so he could build a barn.

Emmett and Eliza were products of the Depression.  They both knew so well about living without, yet I never heard them complain.  Emmett did not get a chance to go to school; he had to stay home to help support his family.  He was the fourth child in a family of 16 brothers and sisters, plus 7 half brothers and sisters who were older.  His daddy had a team of horses and hauled soapstone from the mill to the railroad at Arrington, a distance of about 6 miles. Emmett and three of the older boys spent years cutting  pulpwood to support the ten younger children.

Somehow in this large family he learned valuable lessons in honesty, integrity, politeness and respect.   He learned them well. His parents taught him sharing and love for family.  He was ever so proud of his family, his children, and grandchildren,. His living room was full of their pictures.

Many years ago, Dad trusted Emmett as a picking foreman to supervise one of the crews that came from the community to pick the crop .  Emmett and his brother Denton  knew so well how to train a peach tree in its young years with selective pruning cuts.  In his later years, it was Emmett whom I chose to sit near the big belt that carried the peaches through the packing line and by the last check point before they went to the automatic packing machine.  The peaches then were sent to the refrigerated trailer and then on to the markets.  I wanted a top sorter there in that last check point, someone who really knew their stuff, and often my choice was Emmett if he was available.

Emmett at the “water elevator” checking the peaches as they entered the packing line

He was ever so proud of the fruits of his labor. Often in summertime he shared his garden with the neighbors, bringing a bucket of tomatoes, smiling and pouring them out on a table to show how pretty they were and then exclaiming, “Look a’here, look what I brought you.”

Growing tobacco was one of his loves and talents.  Many a day he would spend in the tobacco fields.  In the fall he would carry his razor-sharp axe and his lunchbox as he followed the narrow river path to the tobacco house near the Cutbank Hole.  Here was a big, deep fishing hole in the bend of the river and it was here that one of the old weather-beaten tobacco houses stood,  a vivid reminder of the days when tobacco was King..  Here he split the wood he had brought earlier for the little fires that cured the tobacco.

He often referred to the peach crop as “our peaches.”  This was most appropriate.  He had been with the peaches from the beginning.  He had helped plant the trees and helped build the packing shed in 1940 as well as the several additions to the shed.  He was an excellent carpenter.  He was good with horses.  He had helped when the ground slide was the way to haul the bushel boxes to the loading area, and then in later years had driven a tractor when hauling the four big 20 bushel box-bins to the packing shed. He had pruned the trees, thinned the fruit, harvested it and so he could surely claim a part of them.

As he got up in years, Tatum often cut his hair.  He used to smile and look at the floor when the haircut was complete, commenting “Looks like opossum hair, doesn’t it?”

His years were certainly lengthened by the care and devotion of his wife, Eliza.  No person could have been more attentive to his needs.   He was a self-made man, the salt of the earth type, the type citizen that was the bedrock of America.

When I shut my eyes and remember back 40-50 years, it seems that I can almost hear his steady, positive commands to his team of horses, his enthusiasm as he admired the crop of fruit, and his pride as he prepared his crop of tobacco for market.  This world would do well to have had more Emmetts.

So long for now,

Paul Saunders

The Old Country Church

July 14, 2011

Rose Union Baptist Church—1940s Photo by Thomas E. Marshall, III

When I was a child, nearly everyone went to church on Sunday. The men folks wore their suits, white shirts, and neckties, the women wore their finest dresses. The men sat on one side of the sanctuary, the women on the other.  The children and young folks sat in the middle along with the courting couples and newlyweds. Soon after couples married, they began sitting on the left and right with the older folks, for this was where their Sunday School classes had been held earlier in the day.

At church the latest news was traded; some may call it gossip, nevertheless church folks usually had it straight as to how things really were.  At the all-day preaching and the church dinners, the lady folks brought their best cooking, pies, cakes, and fried chicken.   Church was not only a soul experience, it was a social occasion.   They were good solid citizens, with firm handshakes, and they would look you straight in the eye.  They would tell you in no uncertain terms that their word was their bond, and it was.

Sunday after Sunday; every Sunday they came to listen to their teachers quote verse after verse from the Bible. The teachers would tell of hardships in the community and marvel how they were being handled. They were compassionate.   Some members, despite being of meager means, gave unselfishly to the church activities and they would tell you, “I want to do my part,” and they did.  The congregation always stepped in to help take care of the needs of the flock.

Sing? Oh, how they would sing!  When they returned home after the service; you heard them humming or singing those songs they sang on Sunday,  The congregation rocked up on their toes and looked to heaven and closed their eyes as they sang, “When the Roll is called up yonder I’ll be there.”   They believed with all of their heart that they were heaven bound.  I believe they were.

Over in one corner in the front of the church was a big wood burning stove providing warmth in winter.  This was fine as most of the homes were heated with wood.  There was no air conditioner, so in summer the windows were raised and if there was a breeze, it was very comfortable,.   Our church, Rose Union Baptist Church, was named after Parson Robert Rose whose home was not far away. He had been a large landowner, a preacher with several churches, and a pioneer in the mid 1700s that was given a 20,000 acre land grant.  Roseland, Rose Mill, Rose Isle in the community were named for him, hence the name.  Union meant it originally was built for several denominations, but over the years, Baptist became the predominant faith that used the building.

Half-way up the wall in the old church building, above a beautiful heart-pine floor, was a single massive beam. It must have been nearly 35 feet long as it spanned the sanctuary and anchored opposite walls.  Just below the beam, clothes-line wire criss-crossed the church and formed little cells for the Sunday school classes. Sheets suspended by rings were attached to the wires so they could slide easily and partition off cubicles. After Sunday school the draping sheets were pulled back to the outside walls, giving a large open space for preaching. The congregation was small but from it came two lifetime preachers; both highly respected and loved. Rose Union was where we went, Sunday after Sunday.

Samuel P. Massie, “Uncle Sam,” Preacher, Evangelist, a Civil War Veteran Photo from Religious Herald Magazine

Here both my great uncle and my grandfather who were brothers, preached after the Civil War.  Uncle Sam, fifteen years older than his younger brother Paulus, was a survivor of many of the Civil War’s fiercest battles including Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. He had seen the wounded and dying on the battlefields, he knew something about death.   Historians note that he was one of the great preachers of his time traveling over 40,000 miles on horseback preaching the gospel and that he baptized over 2000 souls. He was known for his eloquence and persuasive call. One can only imagine him pleading to his congregation that they accept Jesus as their Savior: today, tonight, now!  “The Lord does not always give us 24 hours to make up our minds if we are going to follow him; he may only give us the split second between rifle shots.”  Dad and Uncle Dick often commented on the oratory of Mr. Sam’s preaching.

My class was usually held on the back row of the church, surrounded by the white curtains.  That is where I was one Sunday when at the end of the preaching service. The preacher gave the invitation for those who wished to join the church, for others who wanted to transfer their membership to our church, and for those who were rededicating their lives to Jesus.  It was there that one of my most vivid childhood memories occurred.

Dad, in his WWI Uniform

I was waiting that Sunday to get out of church, probably thinking about playing pasture field baseball that afternoon.  Whatever was on my mind, it changed in an instant when out of the pew where he sat with his brother, and down the church aisle, walked my Dad.  He whispered to the preacher; the preacher whispered back, and Dad returned to his seat.  What they said to each other, I do not know.  It was all over in a couple of minutes.

About twenty years later Daddy died.  He was truly a good man.  He had been raised in a farm home of eleven children.   He had spent much of his time in the harvest fields and been a soldier in France during World War I.  For about fifteen years of his life, he had walked in the mountains, valleys, and fields as a land surveyor.  He was highly respected by the community. At that time, he was the County Treasurer with much responsibility in collecting the county taxes.  As far I knew, Dad was living a near flawless life, so what was he doing walking down the aisle?  I am going to guess: the Lord had touched his heart, and he wanted one more time, to be sure everything was right between him and his Lord.  He wanted his family to know as well, including this little boy who was sitting that day there on the back row.

So long for now,

Paul Saunders