It’s officially fall in New England. The air is clean and the skies are a vibrant blue. So today I decided it was time to visit the local apple orchard to get the best apples that Mother Nature has to offer. I chose Empire apples for baking and Macoun for munching on.
As I was driving back down the bumpy gravel worn road I took note of the trees that had been planted in perfect rows. The branches cascaded upward then downward, each tree laden with hundreds of apples. Our local apple orchard has been here for many decades now. While I was admiring the beautiful trees it triggered a memory for me and suddenly, I was transported from the fall of 2011 to the summer of 1964.
I had been passed through from the fourth grade at Deep River Elementary School. My parents had agreed with the Arch Diocese of Norwich to become the secretary and grounds keeper for the land the diocese had purchased in Westbrook, Connecticut for use as a cemetery. My father would still stay on as a Sergeant for the Connecticut State Police and work as the grounds keeper on his days off. My mother, a stay at home mom would be the cemeteries’ secretary and record keeper.
So, the summer of 1964 meant moving, getting ready to change schools and working on the two story colonial house on the property. It was the summer that precluded my sister entering junior high school and I the fifth grade. The Beatles had mega hits like, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, Martha and the Vandellas were belting out “Dancing in the Streets” and Dusty Springfield was “Wishin’ and Hopin’.”
The house itself was quite old and required quite of bit of TLC. Some renovation to that house had already been done prior to our moving there. It had 4 bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, large kitchen and what probably was once a formal pantry area and mud room had already been divided into two rooms. There was a basement and attic as well.
The colonial home housed four fireplaces – the ones in the kitchen and living room were actually back to back. What made the fireplace in the kitchen so special was part of it was once used eons of years ago for the purpose of baking bread or homemade pies. The wrought iron piece attached to its inner wall with its hooked end was used to hang heavy metal pots for cooking. The other fireplaces were in the master bedroom upstairs and in the basement of the house. Throughout the house, the flooring was wide planked pine secured by nails that were created by hand.
However, it was the outside that was the most intriguing to me. The boundaries between the cemetery and where our home would be were stonewalls that had been there for decades. In fact, the cemetery property itself was enclosed by stonewalls built by men many, many decades or centuries before. Along the driveway which was on the right side of the house was lined with a stone wall. Over that wall was a field that stretched until you reached another stone wall, where beyond that was our closest neighbor.
Behind the large white colonial house stood a number of care worn buildings, all wide planked and painted red. I imagine that they were once a vibrant red but over time Mother Nature’s winds and rain and the heat of the sun would render them a pale red. One separate building we were told was the original “corn crib”. Another building to its’ left was a large structure that may have once been used for storage of farm equipment or harvested goods. Adjacent to that was a smaller building with a loft upstairs. The next building was the stable. Its’ wide posts that extended from the floor to the ceiling had heavy metal round rings attached to them. There were stalls for which I assumed were for oxen and horses.
As you walked out of the stable doors there was a small orchard. If I recall correctly there was an apple tree, some type of plum and a peach tree and possibly a pear tree as well. There was another field out in the back of the stable extending to the length of the cleared cemetery property that was also surrounded by decades old stone walls. Within those walls there were dozens of berry bushes, blueberry mostly, and some raspberry bushes as well.
At one point, centuries ago this had been a real working farm. Strong men and strong oxen had built the boundaries with stones. The over grown fields probably contained gardens of corn and maybe even wheat and vegetables that would sustain who ever lived there during the harsh winter months. The few fruit trees and berry bushes that remained was the only evidence that was left. The orchard may have been larger, but putting in the cemetery road and lawn had probably been the reason why there were so few fruit trees left on the property.
I imagine the folks that lived there were self sustained. The men, rugged and sturdy used their hands to build walls. With the aide of oxen or horses plowed the fields to plant vegetables, corn and wheat. They would plant fruit trees. Some of the products they harvested may have been taken by horse drawn wagons to sell to a general store.
The women, lean and strong used their hands to harvest vegetables, pick blueberries or raspberries for pies. They would milk cows and make home made bread. They put together big pots of hearty meals that would cook over a wood burning fire to be served at supper time. Children would help with chores like splitting wood or bringing in firewood. Perhaps they helped with harvesting or tending to the animals.
These “pioneers” had a simple lifestyle. Family was everything. They led a hard life that went from dawn until dusk. There was no resting until all chores were completed. The day would end sitting at a table crafted by hand, everyone seated and awaiting some baked bread and a steaming bowl of stew or soup prepared over a wood fire. They would probably hold each others worn and tired hands and say a blessing to God for the food before them. They would be truly grateful to share it with family. If a weary traveler or stranger happened along an invitation for supper would probably be extended to them.
Somehow it saddens me that we can’t say that is the norm in this day and age. How many of us actually gather around a dinner table with family and say a blessing for the food before us? Would we offer a complete stranger a place at our dinner table? Would we willingly give the fruits of our labor to others?