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.

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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.

1. The Story of Apple Hill Cottage

It’s hard to start writing a brand new blog when it’s, well, brand new. I’m brand new at it also, which makes it doubly hard. But Apple Hill Cottage has come into our lives. It is a cottage with history — combined history for both Michael and me — and I want to write about it — document it — as we try to respectfully honor those who lived in it before, as well as making it our own.

Apple Hill Cottage, Late fall, 2011.

Apple Hill’s Story–the brief version (Longer versions will appear randomly later…)

Originally built as a little bungalow in the forties thirties by my grandfather (we called him Pa), it was a place “out on the farm”, which later became his apple orchard, Longanecker’s Fruit Farm. Pa added an indoor bathroom when the orchard became successful, and someone needed to live there to help run the orchard and sell the apples. Later on a back bedroom was added and a partial basement under the bedroom. Oh and a garage. “Growed like Topsy” my dad said.

My grandmother’s brother, Leslie, his wife Mary, and their son Bob lived there from sometime in the fifties until 1974 when Pa sold the orchard. I remember being there many times as a kid–we spent time at the apple orchard “helping”. Pa always paid us: fifty cents, a dollar, sometimes two dollars if we really had helped!

This is what the house looked like when Uncle Leslie and Aunt Mary lived there, and how I remember it as a kid.

We spent time in the big barn grading apples, taking the apples to the cider mill, and then helping store the jugs of cider in the little barn, which was refrigerated. There’s a picture of me with Pa in front of the apples for sale on the stand that was built around an oak tree. (I’m looking for it…) Occasionally we had family picnics in the front yard.

Mom and Dad at Apple Hill, ca. 1949.

My Dad (1921-2012) said he first met all of Mom’s extended family at a family picnic here, but he couldn’t remember whether it was before they were married — September 18, 1949 — or after. While looking through old photos for Dad’s funeral, we came across this one, which was taken at the cottage. I like to think it was taken that day of the family picnic.

In 1974, Pa was 82 years old and wanted to retire from the orchard business, so he sold the apple farm to Joe and Clara and their partner, a local attorney. Joe and Clara’s son, Michael, was a senior in college and helped them do various remodeling projects. One of the projects that he has confessed to helping with was wallpapering the living room. It pains me to say we didn’t take a picture of the wall paper before we stripped it off — one of the first things we did — but I’ve found a picture of the wallpaper in the background. It was ORANGE. Seventies Peter Max Orange. And I’m told it’s back in style, but …you decide.

We are in Clara’s living room just after we got married in 2002. The wallpaper was on most every wall, and even on the ceiling in the section of the living room not pictured here. Michael said putting that wallpaper up caused him to be color blind.

I remember thinking it was a bit strange when Mom told me that Pa had sold the orchard to Joe and Clara. Michael and I had dated in high school for two years and had a tortured break up when we were freshmen in college. But in 1974 I was only 22 and not ready to go back to run an apple orchard that I knew nothing about. I do remember wishing I was a bit older and wiser and ready to take it on…

Joe and Clara remodeled the cottage in the seventies style. They turned the garage into the “garage bedroom” and put the ubiquitous paneling on the walls. They replaced a lot of the windows, but not all, and installed 5 (count’em–5!) sets of sliding glass doors — one at every entrance! When we took out the carpeting in the garage bedroom (orange shag) we found they had dated the underneath of the step down into the room. It said, “Joe and Clara started remodeling. March 1, 1974.” We added our names next to theirs —  “Michael and Carol started remodeling, August 11, 2011.”

They also built a wonderful, huge deck at the back of the house, which we are reaping the benefits of now.

View of the little barn from the porch

It looks out over the hills of Greene County. To the left is the little barn where cider was stored. Now our neighbor stores his tractor there. There are wild cherries, oaks, maples, hickories, walnuts, catalpas, and honeysuckle. The birds sing all day. We have a family of bluebirds! I haven’t seen bluebirds since the last time I lived in the country! The binoculars just stay on the porch and the bird book sits nearby on the porch swing. It’s peaceful and serene for these two folks who’ve lived in the city for ten years. The porch looks east and there’s nothing better in the early morning than sitting on the swing drinking coffee and reading Jesus Calling. Yes, I can hear creation singing.

Not just breakfast coffee, but every meal…

Joe and Clara also enclosed the Oak Tree Apple Stand in cedar shakes that matched the house and painted the inside turquoise. It was the seventies, after all… They used it as a garage and also as a permanent garage sale where Clara sold her treasures. They called it the Gazebo; it will have its own post later on. Since Joe died in 1995, it has fallen on hard times. Every once in awhile one of us will come up with an idea for it, but so far it is just storage for carpet, tile, and a couple of unfinished kitchen cabinets. Sister Diane (interior designer that she is) suggested a guest house. Friend Rick was more down to earth — “This is just what Michael needs to store his junk,” he said. Yes, we’ll talk about that later, too…

As Clara got older she couldn’t manage living in the country anymore, and the house sat vacant for several years. Her good neighbors kept an eye on the place and mowed the grass. When it seemed obvious last year that she would never go back to the house, Michael and his sister Rita put the house up for auction. It was to be auctioned on July 12th, but first it had to be cleaned out. A dumpster was rented and almost everything was cleaned out or sent to the auctioneer — including all her Fiesta ware. I will forever be sad about that…

Clara died on Friday night, July 8th. On Saturday morning Michael and I sat up in bed, looked at each other, and simultaneously said, “We don’t have to sell the house anymore…” We called the auctioneer and cancelled the auction; Michael had to write him a check for $5200 (that was a hard check to write…) but all in all, it was a small price to pay for a house with such a story. We buried Clara on the day that the auction was supposed to take place.

I think she is smiling.