I never would have believed (in a million years) that we would spend a full year restoring an old 1870 barn on a farm on which I grew up. Good thing for high energy, a twisted sense of humor and the invention of dumpsters. Better yet, good thing for patient husbands who know to stay clear when their wives are on a creative ‘roll’.
So here’s a little history
My mom re-married when my brother and I were in grade school. My step dad loved horses, so this little city girl was told to pack up, say goodbye to city life, and we’d begin a new life out in the country – on a horse farm with history dating back to the 1870’s.
Life (at age 9) was about to change. After all, I’d never seen farm animals up close. I'd also never seen a real outhouse (there was one in the backyard),although I don’t think it had been used in many years. The bedrooms had wide planked original wood floors, and the house featured one bathroom until it was remodeled in the late 1960’s when we moved in.
It was a simpler time, and while the farm was close to Madison, it was miles away from the conveniences I had grown up with. Unexpected oddities such as picking up the phone to make a call were not always possible. More often than not, you'd pick up the phone but hear someone chatting away! Someone you didn't know. It was known as a 'party line' - essentially many homes shared one phone line, and in the country - it was the norm.
There were unexpected discoveries too. One day, I was exploring on the hillside beyond the barn and found the largest green, crisp, apples I had ever seen - just laying on the ground! I looked up and there stood an ancient tree with gnarled branches weighted down by these enormous apples. I couldn't believe my eyes! Thanks to our horses, most of the lower branches had already been picked clean, but with some minor climbing, I could reach the ones the horses considered inconvenient. So, I gathered as many as my shirt hem could hold and ran back to the house with 'my find'. I can still recall my mother's delight. She quickly produced a sack and told me to run back to that tree and collect as many as I could pick. Soon, the kitchen wafted with the sweet scent of cinnamon and that ever pesky hissing sound of the pressure gauge on a heavy cast cooker. I hated that pressure cooker! I was filled with a constant dread that maybe the gauge at the top that hissed and spun around would come flying off at lightning speed and undoubtedly put someone's eye out. Nothing ever happened, but the 'possibility' was more than enough to keep me far from the kitchen as it hissed away. In a couple of days, we had an entire pantry filled with canned apple sauce and a freezer filled with apple pies.
It wasn't until I became a mother, that I truly appreciated what a challenge my own mother must have faced when first arriving on that farm. She was a refined city girl. Raised in Fort Scott, Kansas (the daughter of a jeweler) and educated at Stephens College in Missouri as well as William and Mary. The idea of living on a farm would have been as foreign to her as wearing a cat on her head. I'm fairly certain she had no idea on how to can applesauce in her prior life. So, in getting back to those apples- she must have studied a good number of pressure cooker manuals and canning cookbooks to take on the herculean job of converting the many pounds of apples I proudly discovered that day - into mouth watering goodness that would last many months.
I never learned to can. After all, that might force me to have to stand in the kitchen next to that Demon pressure cooker. And that old apple tree that produced the largest and best apples I've ever tasted? Well, years later when I wandered up to that spot on the hill, it simply was no longer there. It seemed to have just disappeared. Still to this day, I will take a walk and find myself standing where that old tree would have been.
I think I'm still looking for large green apples, or at the very least, that magical moment of discovery.
the story continues ...