Blue Skies and Apple Blossoms

Reader Contribution by Vern
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May in southcentral Pennsylvania meant apple blossom time. This particular day was Sunday, my favorite day of the week. It was a day filled with worship and gratitude for all the blessings that surrounded us, the blessings we so easily take for granted.

As I looked up at the beautiful white and pink apple blossoms against a dark blue, cloudless sky, I softly uttered these words, “How can anything be more majestic, more perfect?”

A lush, green carpet of grass surrounded trees heavily laden with blossoms, while yellow dandelion flowers dotted the orchard landscape. Bees, thousands of them, were busy doing what – well, what bees do naturally. I watched as they scurried from blossom to blossom, becoming heavy and slow as they drew nectar into their sacks and collected pollen on their back legs. Off they went to deposit this precious cargo, only to return and do the same thing over and over again.

Who else but our Creator could arrange this?

Apple blossom time was a special celebration in our small villages and communities, especially Adams and Cumberland Counties. The sights and smells of those delightfully fragrant blossoms signified newness of life and spring. Thousands of people from nearby communities visited this section of Pennsylvania just to be part of the festivities.

The first Sunday in May was always set aside as “apple blossom Sunday.” A tourist train made runs through the hills and valleys to view the beautiful blossoms. Numerous busses and automobiles crowded the back roads just to take in this “once a year” floral spectacle.

South Mountain Fairgrounds in Adams County was the focal point for these activities, which included delicious barbecued chicken. Vendors set up stands selling arts and crafts, as well as apple blossom honey. This honey had a mild, sweet taste and scent. It reminded everyone of spring.

The apple blossom has a flower composed of five petals, which are usually white with a touch of pink. The fruit and leaf buds flower at the same time, which creates a tree completely covered with beautiful blossoms. On those days when the sky is cloudless and deep blue, it is an awesome sight.

Photo: Fotolia/hal_pand_108

The apple blossom is one of the most desired flowers for special occasions, especially for weddings in early May. These blossoms, known as aromatic flowers, impress people with their distinctive and pleasant smell, as well as peaceful beauty.

There is no way to accurately describe the aroma, but others have used terms like romantic, pure spring, clean and new, and refreshing.

That was the setting where I found myself on that perfect Sunday.

After attending Sunday school and worship, it wasn’t hard to figure out what was for dinner. As we all climbed out of the old Chevrolet and walked up the big, stone steps past the forsythia, which was in full bloom, the smell of roast beef drew us right to the kitchen. Watching my sisters peel potatoes to mash, I decided to leave the kitchen for a while. The house was small. The kitchen was small. We, on the other hand, were not small. There definitely was not enough room for everyone to help make dinner.

We kids engaged in some form of trivial activity for an hour, just biding our time until the potatoes were cooked. I knew there would be mashed potatoes on the table this day.

Back then, I was an avid photographer. With dreams of someday being famous, I took a mail correspondence course. It wasn’t unusual for me to walk with my new Agfa camera, since there were so many fresh, new subjects to be photographed. That day, I walked up the hill behind our home to the apple orchard, which was in full bloom.

Sundays were so very special to me, and they remain that way. We learned to never work on the Lord’s Day.

The wait for lunch – we called it Sunday dinner – was well worth it, with tender browned roast beef and buttered mashed potatoes, all covered with dark, slightly salty gravy, with a side of succotash. I loved Sunday dinners.

After a wonderful meal, we helped with the dishes; I dried.

It was then nap time as everyone found a cool spot to relax. The sisters went upstairs to nap on the soft bed, while we four boys sprawled out somewhere on the floor or on the oversized couch. Mom and Dad kicked back in their well-used recliners and listened to the South Sea Islanders, a band that played slow, melodic Hawaiian music.

Soon, everyone was asleep.

Sometime within the next hour, Mom started to stir. That was a sure sign for everyone else to get up.

“Come on, boys, get up. It’s time to go visit Dad.” Then she went to the stairway and hollered the same thing to the girls.

Within a few minutes, we all stacked into Dad’s old car. Stacked was what we were. Dad had a five-passenger Chevy Coupe. As a family of eight, we made it work: five in the back seat and three in the front. It always worked. Away we went for a Sunday visit, all the while singing out loud.

Grampaw was a big man with broad shoulders, a big wart on his nose and not one hair on his head. A widower for many years, he lived with his two oldest un-married daughters, named Dude and Hid.

Back in the late 1940s, not much happened in our rural community. It only seemed right to visit him on a Sunday afternoon. Grampaw had nine kids, and they all had kids, so it was not unusual for everyone to show up, sometimes as many as 30 or 40. Since we all got there later in the afternoon, food was eagerly anticipated.

Dude and Hid worked all their lives in the local sewing factories. Preparing supper for the Sunday evening gang consumed much of their time during the week. Everyone knew the sisters worked very hard feeding so many. We suggested they stop doing it, or at least slow down, but deep in our hearts, we wanted them to continue this tradition.

Later, I realized they took much joy and pride in their cooking. It gave them a purpose for living, other than going to church and Sunday school. They worked for 40 plus years in that noisy, dusty, old garment factory, and nothing ever changed. Preparing meals gave them something to look forward to on the weekend.

Some of my fondest memories came from the meals they served us on those warm, sunny Sunday afternoons.

The adult men gathered on the front porch and talked about the latest fishing trips for trout or catfish. Another favorite topic centered on shooting a trophy buck, at a time many years ago, at a place I knew nothing about. Sometimes that old wooden porch seemed covered in fish scales or blood.

Other times, talk centered on the Indy 500 race. Usually by the end of the day, we could almost smell burning rubber in the air as an unlucky driver spun out, or hit the wall.

Whatever the stories, I loved every one of them.

All the women gathered inside. I have no idea what they ever talked about, because we stayed outside. The younger kids played football somewhere, or maybe baseball.

Before long, Dude and Hid announced, “Time for supper.”

The men didn’t move. The kids kept playing, but there was a flurry of activity in the kitchen as all the women pitched in to help serve the meal.

The aunts always went to extremes when they prepared food, and we loved it. They made two entrées, with a couple of side dishes, different kinds of cakes, and maybe a pie or more. They served the food on individual trays, like the ones used in a school cafeteria or church hall. The men sat on the porch, the kids on the grass when it was nice, and the women remained in the kitchen.

The stories didn’t stop. Someone continued the tale about missing a big buck. With each telling, the rack on that buck got bigger and bigger. The same was true when they talked about the ever-growing carp that got away.

My favorite all-time best meal was hamburgers. McDonald’s did not create the quarter pounder or that half pounder. They missed it by 40 years. The aunts made them big and juicy, and “Oh, so tender.” They combined fresh ground beef with oatmeal, egg, and onion as fillers, and then fried them ever so gently in a big iron skillet. Put one patty in a fresh bun with some ketchup and mustard, and I was in hog heaven.

I never tasted another burger as juicy and tender as the ones served on Grampaw’s front porch. Those two dear aunts still cook and serve whenever anyone shows up.

Add a huge slice of deep, dark, moist chocolate cake – triple layer, of course – with lots of dark, creamy, gooey icing, and I was stuffed to overflowing.

I loved the times when we talked Dad and Aunt Sammie into playing the banjo and piano. Sammie was an excellent pianist, and Dad was pretty good on both. We gathered around the piano, they played, and we sang all the old hymns we could possibly remember.

When they got tired, we begged Sammie to play her (and my) two favorite songs, “Under the Double Eagle” and “Silent Confession.” I loved those songs, and listened to them over and over until she got tired. I really miss those afternoons of just singing, laughing, and being together with the family. As I look back, I just miss those good old days.

Soon the day was gone. The sun put on one final display of deep, red-orange blaze, then faded to dull orange-gray, then, finally, nothing.

Sunday was over. It was another blessed day.

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