Great Grandaddy Eugene (Gene) Brown was the father of my paternal grandfather, Charlie James Brown, as well as my grandfather’s oldest brother, Fletcher Brown (also my father’s name), Aunt Willie Eva (the oldest daughter), Aunt Annie Bell and the baby, Pecola or Aunt “Babe,”as she was affectionately known to my siblings and I. As a matter of fact, I believe everyone called her Aunt Babe, including her own grandchildren. Uncle Fletcher died long before I was born.
Grandaddy Gene was a landholder and successful farmer who’d somehow and through the most trying of times; which included such adversity as was encountered during the “Great Depression” and the “Jim Crow Era,” managed to gain and retain ownership of his, “forty acres and a mule” and then some. On that land, he grew crops such as cotton and peanuts. Alongside these “cash crops” he grew “subsistence crops” like; corn, greens, field peas, butterbeans, okra, snap beans, and many others. Of course, this was all before my time, but I was an attentive and incidental student, who listened closely to the stories told by the elders.
On this farm, my Grandfather also grew sugar cane. When harvested, the sugar cane was transported to, and fed into, the onsite “cane mill.” The mill was powered by the mule that pulled a “sweep,” which then turned two live oak “rollers,” between which the cane stalks were fed. The rollers crushed the stalks of sugar cane, producing a sickly sweet juice which was strained through a burlap strainer into a barrel. The cane juice could then be used or sold as syrup for biscuits, or as jugs of juice for drinking.
I recall the stories that were told about the farm and its various industries. I recall the descriptions of the different types of flora, which grew, blossomed and bore fruit on the farm, but the “Wild Apple” tree, I saw with my own eyes. It had survived down through the years, sharing its fruit with two; maybe three generations of Browns terminating in my generation; for the tree is no more.
I can recall the times when my father would take us out “in the country” and to the farm. The only structure still standing on the old farm was a corn crib, which my Uncle Harry used for his hog feed and corn, of course. Uncle Harry still farmed some of the land; using the “U.S.S. John Deere” to cultivate and grow corn to feed his livestock. The corn crib, the tractor and the pigs were all fascinating entities, but the object which drew me with black-hole-like force was the “Wild Apple Tree” and its fruit of red, green, and gold.
We called these apples “wild” but that was actually a misnomer. The only truly “wild” apples native to the United States are the crabapples. I’ve eaten those too and believe me, there is no way that one, could ever be mistaken for the other. The apples at the farm were wildly sweet and insidiously tart, but the crabapples were harshly acrid. They elicited a pucker reflex exponentially greater than lemons, or any other “sour” food, for that matter. They’d leave your mouth feeling like cotton for hours after ingestion, but not the farm’s “wild apples”. They were only “wild” insofar as they grew on a mostly abandoned farm which, was no longer a home to people; just rabbits, hogs, squirrels, and deer.
Once on the farm, I’d dash past the pig pen and the corn crib then dash across the open meadow; quickly climbing the short-trunked tree and scooting out onto the low, thick branches. It was a wonderfully easy tree to climb and the rewards for the miniscule effort it took to scale the tree, were the oddly shaped, golden, red apples. These apples didn’t look like the ones in the store. They didn’t have the familiar “apple shape.” They were squatty and wide. Some were large and some were smaller. They were harder than the “store-bought” kind, but once one was past the outer covering, they were sumptuous.
No doubt, each apple was unique; no two of them the same.
Hmm, as I think about that fact, I am reminded of something else…
I’ll elaborate next Friday in Wild Apples Part 2.