88. Stories from Apple Hill

It is the season of giving thanks and remembering our blessings.

And while I have much to be thankful for at the cottage (new windows, new insulation, and lower gas bills) today I’m going to be thankful for those who built and took care of this little cottage before us.


Joe and Clara named the road and made the signs. Now it is officially called Apple Hill Rd. and it’s even on Google Maps…

My grandfather, Pa, built the cottage sometime in the thirties after he bought the orchard. It was just a little two-room house at the time; it was what is now the kitchen and the living room. My mother told stories about her brother’s friends spending the nights out there on an occasional weekend and scaring themselves with ghost stories. My dad told the story of Pa shooting his shotgun in the air to scare off teenagers who were stealing apples in the dark. (I’m not sure how he knew that one…)

Mom and Dad at Apple Hill, ca.1949

This is the first photograph I have of the cottage. It was taken either right before or right after my mom and dad were married. There are several things I love about this picture:

  • My mom is skinny. (She would love that!)
  • Their smiles.
  • My dad’s tie.
  • My mom’s hair style.
  • My dad holding a cigarette. (Oh the forties, when everyone smoked…)
  • The delphiniums (or foxgloves) blooming behind them.
  • They are so young…

Mom also told the story of The Accident. (Some details are sketchy because I heard this story when I was young and never thought to ask for specifics; now there’s no one to ask. There is a lesson here…)

She was a teenager, dressed up to go out on a date. Pa was working late out at the orchard — it was his second job, being a farmer. I don’t know why Mom was out on the farm in her “going out on a date” clothes, but that was the way she told it. Pa asked her to drive the tractor into the big barn while he rode on the back in the wagon. I imagine she wasn’t happy about driving the tractor in her good black and white plaid skirt. As she was driving, Pa reached down to do something with the connection between the two vehicles and his hand got caught. He screamed, but she couldn’t hear him in the noise of the tractor. Bleeding, they raced the four miles to the hospital in the truck–Mom driving– but Pa lost the top knuckle of his ring finger. Whenever we asked him about it, he would just shrug and say it was an accident. Mom was the one who told us how it happened.

IMG_3220Pa was a teacher, a principal, and he retired as the county superintendent of schools, but I remember him always dressed in his farming clothes. Dark green or gray matching shirt and pants — he wore the suit of manual labor as proudly as he wore his business suits. He let us kids ride in the back of the truck as he bounced around the orchard. And he built bleachers for the bushel baskets of apples around the large oak tree in the front yard. As kids, we used to run around the bleachers, jumping from level to level, listening to the zing of the boards as we landed.

Painting of Apple Hill Cottage, ca.1973

This is the way the cottage looked as I remember it as a kid.

Aunt Mary and Uncle Leslie lived in the cottage from sometime in the fifties until around 1973. Aunt Mary sold the apples from the bleachers in the front yard. Water problems always haunted the cottage — there was a well in the side yard with a hand pump where Aunt Mary got water for cooking and drinking, and there was a cistern in the other side yard for non-potable water. Aunt Mary was an Italian farm girl married to a Welsh miner. When my dad died I found her naturalization papers in his desk drawer.

Later, probably after their son Bob was born, they made a small kid’s room in the living room and added a split level basement with a large back bedroom over the foundation. It has hardwood floors and early sixties type trim around the doors. Neighbor Betty has told us the story of a young Bob who was playing with matches in his bedroom (or maybe smoking?) and set part of his room on fire. He was so afraid of getting in trouble, he ran away — all the way to the big apple barn down the road.  He was found later that day in the hay loft, where we were never allowed to go as kids. As we took off walls and plaster in the cottage living room, we thought we could see scorch marks on some of the ceiling joists. (Bob, if you’re out there reading this, please let us know your version.)

Cider barn and shed

The little barn has a refrigerated basement and that’s where the cider was stored.
Joe and Clara built the little garden shed. This spring it will get a facelift with a window box and new paint.

Mr. H.C.’s mom and dad, Joe and Clara bought the orchard in 1973 from my grandfather who wanted to retire–at the age of 81. Clara told the story of Joe coming home and announcing that he was thinking of buying the orchard, and how would she like to move? When they went to see the cottage, Aunt Mary was there and not particularly welcoming to the people who would be buying her house. She had lived there for thirty plus years and was now going to have to move to an apartment in town. Clara was moving from the house where she had lived for almost twenty years –the house they had built, the house where she had raised her family — to a humble cottage in the country that needed repairing. Two women, two stories; if these walls could talk….

Joe and Clara took out the little bedroom and made a larger living/dining room. They also made the garage into the garage bedroom and enclosed the apple stand to make what they called The Gazebo. They took up the bleachers and made shelves along the walls for Clara’s treasures. It was called the Treehouse Yard Sale.treehouseyardsale2
We found this sign inside the Gazebo hanging on the old door.office hours
It is totally Joe’s corny humor and we smile every time we read it.

And we found this on the back side of the step that goes down into the garage bedroom:IMG_3209We added our names next to theirs — with the date of Aug. 12, 2011.

Telling a story is like reaching into a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful. There is always more to tell than can be told… —Wendell Berry in Jayber Crow.

16 thoughts on “88. Stories from Apple Hill

  1. I really enjoyed reading the story of the cottage and the people who lived in it. . . . and I was incredibly relieved that your dad only lost part of a finger. The accident could have been much worse.


    • Yes, Farm accidents generally are much much worse! It was my grandpa who lost his finger — and he was married to my grandma who reminds me of your grandma! They even look similar. Sometime I’ll share a picture…


    • Thank you. They do need to be written down, before they get forgotten. Another quote from Wendell Berry — things went to the grave with them that will never be known again…
      Now that my parents are both gone, I feel that most strongly! There’s no one to ask!


  2. Oh that was wonderful! I especially liked the part of the two women living in the house…if these walls could talk! :) A good reminder to listen more, talk less, and maybe even write some things down! Thank you for sharing these precious memories!


  3. What a great tale. I stumbled across your blog this evening and have been enthralled by your stories.
    I’m rather jealous of your cottage, and being in England, I think you should simply hand it over!


    • Thank you! Your comment made me smile.
      Maybe a house swap for summer holidays? Though I think we have to get the bathroom finished before anyone would swap with us! :-)
      Thanks for commenting.


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