After supper, as was custom in the Lancer household, the family gathered in the great room. Johnny was stretched out on the thick rug in front of the fireplace, his white socked feet crossed at the ankles and his head resting on two thick throw pillows. Teresa took her place in the small rocking chair on the far side of the hearth, turned up the lamp and picked up her embroidery. Murdoch nestled in one corner of the couch to smoke his pipe and sip at a glass of scotch. And Scott took his customary seat in the tufted leather chair in the corner on the near side of the fireplace.
During their meal, Scott had informed them that today – September 26th – was a special day set aside to honor a most special man and that, as such, he would like to read aloud the story of this legend. Shrugging off his boots, he too crossed his legs at the ankles and rested his feet on the ottoman. He held a thin book in his hands with a red cover. Resting the open book in his left hand, he cleared his throat to garner everyone’s attention. In his smooth voice, he began to read.
“This is the true story of a very special man. One to whom the entire United States can be grateful to for his dedication and his foresight. He was born in Massachusetts in 1774 and died in 1845 while visiting a friend in Indiana. The man’s birth name was John Chapman but everybody called him Johnny Appleseed.”
“Now hold up there one minute, Boston. I thought you said this was a true story. Are you making up that there Johnny Appleseed name to make fun of me or tease me or what?”
“John,” Murdoch interjected. “This is a true story and if you will listen you will see why the man’s nickname became Johnny Appleseed.”
Johnny narrowed his eyes and glowered at his brother. He still thought the whole tale was made up and that somehow he would end up to be the butt of some joke. He laced his fingers and lifted his head just enough to lay them between the pillows and the back of his head.
“Are we all ready to listen now?” Scott asked quietly, his eyebrows raised and his eyes fixed on Johnny’s.
“What you waitin’ for, brother. Read on. Read on.” Murdoch suppressed a smile and Teresa swallowed the giggle rising in her throat.
Scott cleared his throat again. He always did that when he felt he had something important to say. With a final stare at his brother, he turned his blue-grey eyes to the pages of the book. “As I was saying . . . This is the story of Johnny Appleseed.” He looked at Johnny through blonde lashes without raising his head. “Once upon a time . . .”
“What time?” Johnny asked.
“It doesn’t matter.” Scott replied narrowing his eyes.
“If it doesn’t matter, why’d you bring it up?”
Scott inhaled deeply and swallowed hard. “The author chose to bring it up. I am merely reading what he wrote. So let me begin again. Once upon a time . . .”
“Well, it matters to me. I mean was it nighttime or daytime or winter or spring or . . .”
“John.” Murdoch scolded.
Johnny twisted his head to look up at his father. “Well, Pa, now I’m tryin’ to picture this here story in my head and I can’t do that unless I know some of the facts.”
Murdoch looked over at Scott and shrugged his shoulders before taking a rather deep swallow of scotch. Although a relatively short tale, he had the feeling it was going to be a long night.
Scott closed his eyes for a minute. He was obviously struggling to control that little ember of irritation that had started burning deep down inside him. “Okay. Well I would say it would be springtime. The sun is shining and the grass is just beginning to green. The sky is pale blue with fluffy white clouds and the birds are singing while flying hither and yon to gather material to build their nests.” Scott glanced up at Teresa and saw her lips pressed together and folded inward to hold back her laughter. His eyes moving to his little brother, he saw a look of satisfaction on Johnny’s face. “Is that helpful Johnny? Shall I read on?”
“Yah Boston, that helped a lot. Proceed.”
Scott took another deep breath and dearly wished he had poured himself a snifter of brandy but he hadn’t expected his recitation to take very long and decided to wait. Perhaps when Murdoch went to refill his glass . . .”Johnny Appleseed was a pioneer apple farmer and a folk hero.”
Johnny grinned. “Here that Teresa. I’m named after a hero!”
“Hardly”, murmured Murdoch. He smiled at his eldest son. “Go on son. It’s very interesting.”
A muscle in Scott’s jaw was twitching. “Johnny’s dream was to produce enough apples so that no one would go hungry.”
“That brings tears to my eyes brother. Did he realize his dream? Did he save the starving children?” Johnny croaked.
“Well if you’d shut . . . if you’d listen to the rest of the story you might find out.”
“Oh well then, don’t keep us in suspense. Do read on.”
Scott’s lower teeth were biting his upper lip. He was just about ready to throw the book down, grab a brandy and go to bed. A look of despair swept across his face noting that he was still on page one. “Although legend paints his picture as a daydreaming wanderer planting apple seeds throughout the countryside, he was actually a careful, organized businessman . . .”
“Oh, like Harlan, hey Boston? Isn’t that what your grandfather thinks . . . er, I mean . . . isn’t that what your grandfather is – a educated highly successful businessman?”
“Yes Johnny,” Scott spat. “And you know how he got to be a successful entrepreneur? By listening!” Scott fairly screamed the last two words. Murdoch finished his drink and Teresa laid her embroidery aside. The drama unfolding in front of their eyes was growing more amusing than the story and they didn’t want to miss a word.
Scott looked at his father with pleading eyes. Without having to say a word, Murdoch rose, walked over to the liquor cart and poured his son a hefty amount of brandy. Handing it to Scott as he passed, his oldest son took a couple deep swallows. Setting the snifter on the small table at his right elbow, he inhaled deeply and held his breath for a moment before expelling it through his mouth. Murdoch could only imagine Scott was counting to ten – probably in every language he knew. He didn’t want to scold Johnny though as Murdoch had discovered that’s how his youngest learned best – by asking questions. Murdoch waved his fingers at Scott as indication that he should continue.
period of fifty years, Johnny bought and sole tracts of land and grew
thousands of productive apple trees.”
“How long does it take a apple tree to make fruit after you plant it?” When no one answered, he swung his head to glance between his brother and his father. “What, Mr. I went to Harvard doesn’t know?”
“I would say about as long as it’s going to take you recover after I beat the sh—“
“Scott!” Murdoch barked. “There is a young lady present.”
Scott hung his head a minute then caught her gaze. “My sincere apologies Teresa.” Teresa smiled and nodded. “Now let’s see, where was I?”
“He grew a bunch of trees and swapped land back and forth.”
“It was a rhetorical question little brother.”
“What’s retorcal mean?”
“Murdoch, please?” Scott pleaded.
“The word is rhetorical son. It means asking a question when you really don’t expect an answer.”
down right dumb! Why would you ask a question if you didn’t want to know
somethin’? I mean think about it . . .”
“Murdoch do something with your . . . your sweet young son. PLEASE!” Scott growled.
“Hey Boston. Don’t get so upset. Just because you had to ask Pa what retorcal meant because you didn’t know . . .”
“I know perfectly well what rhetorical means. I asked YOUR father to explain it because I am about ready to . . .ohhhhh!” Scott drained his snifter. Murdoch could see the redness of anger creeping up his fairer son’s neck and the veins pulsing on either side.
“Johnny, son, I know you like to ask a lot of questions. And that’s good!” He quickly added. “Do you think you could save some of them until Scott finishes the story? You know, some might get answered by then by the author, otherwise I will be happy to sit down with you and answer anything you want to ask. Okay?”
Johnny pouted. “I suppose. Don’t know how a guy is supposed to learn anything if he can’t ask a question, even one of them there retorcal ones.” He huffed, folding his arms across his chest.
“Go on Scott. Teresa and I are enjoying the tale very much.” Murdoch smiled and Teresa grinned and nodded.
Scott pursed his lips. “If I get interrupted by the junior male member of this family one more time . . . Now, where was I? Don’t you say one word!” He groused glaring at his brother with eyes so narrowed they almost appeared closed. Johnny raised two fingers to his lips and mimed buttoning his lip. “Johnny’s adventure began in 1792 when, at age eighteen, he and his eleven-year-old half-brother Nathanial headed west . . .”
Johnny raised his right index finger and opened his mouth but immediately snapped it shut and dropped his hand when he saw the near-rage in his brother’s face. He was merely going to point out that the two half-brothers headed west reminded him of himself and Scott. ‘Oh well, never mind.” He thought. ‘Scott’s loss!’ He truly wanted to stick out his tongue but Murdoch was within arm’s reach so he refrained.
“ . . . following the steady stream of immigrants heading the same direction. A few years later, he began traveling alone as Nathaniel stayed behind to help his father – who had also moved west – maintain the farm. John continued west into Pennsylvania and from there into the Ohio Valley, later traveling into Indiana. He tried to stay ahead of the settlers and each year planted apple trees further and further west.”
Johnny tugged on the cuff of his father’s pant leg. Murdoch bent down as far as he could with his bad back. “Pa,” Johnny whispered. “I keep forgettin’ my questions. I can’t wait until the end of the story. Scott reads too slow.” Murdoch held up an index finger then pushed himself off the couch and crossed to his desk. He picked up a small tablet and a pencil. Crossing back to the sofa, he handed them to his youngest and suggested he write down his questions as he thought of them and together they could go through the list later.
Johnny smiled. “Thanks Pa.” Tossing the tablet toward his feet, he stuck the pencil between his lips. Sitting up, he dropped the pillows next to the tablet and swung his legs around so that he was lying on his stomach with his chest resting on the pillows. He immediately began to write.
“Shall I continue or do you need a minute?” Scott asked with sarcasm in his voice.
Johnny looked up at his older brother and smile. “Yah, give me a minute would yah Boston? Go get some more brandy or something.” Dropping his gaze, he resumed writing. Scott actually took his brother’s suggestion, laid the book face down on the ottoman and walked behind the chair. Picking up the bottle of brandy, he aggressively fought the temptation to drink right out of the bottle and refilled his snifter instead. Taking a deep swallow, he topped it off before resuming his seat. When Johnny looked up Scott merely raised his eyebrows. “Okay, I’m ready.” He said, grinning.
Scott took another swallow before picking up the book and repositioning it in his hand. He silently cursed at himself for chugging down the brandy so fast as the words swam a little on the page. Blinking his eyes several times, they became clearer and he began to read once more. “Johnny always carried a leather bag full of apple seeds which the cider mills gladly gave him at no cost.”
“Wow, free seeds means all profit. He really was a smart . . .” Although Johnny kept his voice barely above a whisper it apparently bothered his brother and so he clamped his lips shut and bowed his head slightly.
“Legend says he planted them along the roadways, near the streams and in open spaces within the forests. However, evidence suggests that Johnny created numerous nurseries by carefully choosing the perfect planting spots, fencing the area and returning at regular intervals to repair the fences, cultivate the soil and sell the trees. Soon he became known as the apple seed man, which, over time, was shortened to Johnny Appleseed.”
Johnny was furiously scratching out questions on the tablet. Scott couldn’t decide if the constant movement along with the sound of the lead scraping across the paper and the occasional rasp of the eraser accompanied by a cuss word spoken in such a low voice that only Scott could hear it was better or worse than constantly being interrupted as he read. He moved the book until it was held in both his hands, rested his elbows on the arms of the chair, and positioned the pages so he couldn’t see over the top of them effectively blocking out at least the constant movement and fidgeting of his baby brother.
“As the years passed, his frequent visits to the different settlements were looked forward to and no door was ever closed to him. To the adults he was a news carrier; to the children a best friend and to all a preacher as he was very religious; his favorite book being the bible.”
“Scott?” Johnny’s voice was soft with an apologetic tone to it.
“Johnny?” Scott replied in a quiet voice.
“I got a question.”
“Just write it down with the others and I’ll answer it at the end of the book.”
“I kinda need an answer right now though.”
Scott sighed and lowered the volume to his lap. “Yes?”
“Can we take a little break?” Johnny held a pleading look in his eyes. “Please?”
“Right now? You want to take a break right now!”
“Well, the sooner the better.”
“Why is that?”
Johnny blushed furiously and rose to his knees. “I . . . I just need to take a little break is all. Does a guy have to justify such a simply request? Geez!” Johnny put one foot forward and levered himself up.
Scott hung his head. “Johnny, do you want to hear the rest of the story or not?”
“Yah. Yah Scott it’s a good story. You read kinda slow though and well, I just need a couple minutes to . . .” Finally Johnny’s request became clear to his older brother by the way his little brother was fidgeting.
“Too much coffee at supper?”
Johnny dipped his head bashfully. “Yah.”
“Go!” Scott barely had the word out of his mouth than Johnny took off like a bat out of hell up the stairs and down the hall. The three remaining family members managed to stifle their laughter until they heard the door to the water closet slam.
“Well one thing I know for sure.” Scott declared.
“What’s that son?”
“I’m certainly glad he’s YOUR son and not mine!”
They heard the upstairs door open and then soft footsteps on the front stairs. Johnny’s cheeks flamed when Teresa caught his eye and he quickly turned his back toward her and resumed his position on the floor.
“Boston! There is a young lady in the room you know.” Pausing, he added a quiet “Yah”. The grandfather clocked chimed ten times. Scott was only halfway through the book and it had taken two hours. There were only a handful of pages in the entire volume and should have taken less than an hour. He sincerely hoped his little brother could remain quiet and still so that he could finish quickly. After all, tomorrow was a work day.
Purposely skipping a few very, very minor details and omitting an adjective here and there Scott continued. “Johnny was a friend to many Indian tribes and learned their languages well enough to converse fluently. He foraged for his food and never killed an animal. Although he appeared poor, he actually accumulated more cash than he needed by selling the apple trees and the tracts of land. Not a believer in banks, he employed an intricate system of burying his funds. Given a choice, he preferred to barter for food and clothing rather than using money. It was more important to him that a settler plant an apple tree than to give him cash money for it.”
Scott glanced at the floor. Johnny was scribbling as fast as he could and was now on his third piece of paper. How many questions could the boy possibly have? It was such a simple story! Scott silently thanked his lucky stars that Murdoch had offered to answer them as, knowing how many more questions Johnny would think up from analyzing the answers to his first ones, it could take days.
“Johnny was of medium height with blue eyes and brown hair. He was described by folks as wiry and alert.” Scott paused and looked down at his brother. Sure were a lot of similarities! “People also described him as funny looking because of the kind of clothes he wore. He often traded the settlers apple trees for their cast-off clothing and would even give away the best of that if someone needed it more than himself. He rarely wore shoes, even in the winter, and the skin on his feet became so thick that even a rattlesnake couldn’t bit through it.”
“Yick! I hate snakes!” Johnny proclaimed, involuntarily shuddering.
“There was a garter snake in the garden the other day that was so big I almost . . . Well, anyway, it was gigantic.’ Teresa intoned. Scott looked over at her with a flat expression. He didn’t need another member of the family getting everyone off onto another subject.
Scott was about ready to cry. There so little, so very little, of the book left. He silently plead to whoever might be listening to just keep everybody quiet and focused for ten more minutes. “As the tale passed from one to another, it was said that he wore a pot on his head for a hat but since pots in that time period were made of either heavy copper or iron it would be doubtful. Rather, he probably wore a castoff hat of some type or perhaps even made his own. He rarely sought shelter inside a house or barn, preferring to sleep on the bare ground with his feet near a small fire.”
Scott tried to suppress a yawn unsuccessfully. Teresa was rocking slowly with her hands lying limply in her lap and her head nodding downward every few minutes. Murdoch, although still awake, had slouched down far enough on the couch to rest his head on the back of it. He held his pipe loosely in his right hand. It had extinguished itself a long time past but he seemed not to notice. Johnny had removed the pillows from under his chest and now lay flat on the floor except for his head which was held up on the heel of one hand while his other arm held the pencil at the ready to jot down his next question.
“In 1842 Johnny made his last trip back to Ohio. He moved in with his half-brother Nathaniel. He died of pneumonia on March 18, 1845 at the age of seventy-one years while visiting his friend William Worth. It is said this was the only occasion he was ill in his entire lifetime. He was laid to rest near Fort Wayne, Indiana, in an unmarked grave. No one knows where his life’s savings were buried. They have never been found. He died a very, very rich poor man.”
Scott closed the book gently and laid it on the ottoman. Johnny was sound asleep, his head resting on his forearm, pencil still in hand. Murdoch had just started lightly snoring and Teresa had turned in the rocking chair to fold her arms on the small table holding the lamp. Her eyes were closed and her breathing slow in slumber. Scott rose, drank down the last swallow of his brandy and stretched. He was dead tired too but he was the only one awake enough to care for the others. He carefully slid the pencil out of Johnny’s fingers and, grabbing the blanket off the back of one of the wing chairs, shook it out quietly and dropped it over him. With a little effort, he lifted Murdoch’s legs and swung them over Johnny and onto the couch. Pulling on his father’s ankles gently, he slid the man down enough so his head was supported by the low armrest. He took the blanket off the back of the sofa and draped it over Murdoch’s legs and chest. Now for Teresa.
Scott was afraid to leave her where she was as the chair had no arms and she could easily fall and hurt herself. Placing a hand lightly on each of her shoulders, he bent down close to her ear and softly called her name. At first she just smiled but the second time her eyes fluttered open. She startled a little until she realized where she was and who was helping her up. Scott blew out the lamp and put one arm around her shoulders to lead her to the stairs. He supported her weight as she swayed wearily into his side. Leading her down the hall to her room, he left the door ajar so as not to have to light the lamp. He pulled back the blankets and eased Teresa down to the side of the mattress. He knelt down on one knee to pull off her shoes and held the covers aloft as she got settled. Pulling the blanket over her, he whispered good night then plodded with heavy steps toward the door and into the hallway.
Easing the door shut behind him, he dropped his head back and closed his eyes halfway as he walked to the other end of the hall and into his own room. Not even bothering to unbutton his shirt, he pulled it off over his head then unfastened his pants and let them fall. Stepping out of them, he peeled his own covers back and fell onto the mattress. Leaving his discarded clothing on the floor was most uncharacteristic but he didn’t care. It had been a good story. A heartwarming story. A very short story that became a very long story thanks to his little brother but he couldn’t be angry. Johnny was just being Johnny and that’s why he loved him so much.
* * * * * * * * * *
The world’s longest apple peel was created in 1976 in New York by Kathy Madison age 16. It was 172’ and 4” long.
It takes 8-10 years after it is planted for an apple tree to bear fruit.
Bees are needed to pollinate apple trees as they are not self-pollinating.
Two-thirds of the fiber in an apple is in the peel.
Americans eat an average of 50 pounds of apple and apple products a year.
Apples are a member of the rose family along with pears, peaches, plums and cherries.
Twenty-five percent of an apple is air which is why they float.
It takes approximately 36 apples to make one gallon of apple cider.
The United States grows 2500 varieties of apples.
The crabapple is the only apple native to North America.
Over 7000 varieties of apples are grown world-wide.
Apple are grown commercially in 36 states.
Most apples are still picked by hand.
It takes the energy of 50 leaves to produce one apple.
Apples are second only to oranges as the most valuable crop in the United States.
The largest U.S. apple crop was produced in 1998 at 277.3 million bushels.
Archeologists have found evidence that humans have been eating apples since 6500 B.C.
Newton Pippin apples were the first to be exported from America in 1768, some having been sent to Benjamin Franklin in London.
In 1730 the first apple nursery was opened in Flushing, New York.
A bushel of apples weighs 42 pounds and will yield 20-24 quarts of applesauce. A peck of apples weighs about 10 pounds and yields about 32 medium apples.
Apples ripen or soften 10 times faster at room temperature than in the refrigerator.