I look up and above to the picture Mom gifted me of my 11-year-old self, hand across the back of our Labrador Retriever’s shoulder, and Dusty (our rescued groundhog) pulling at his jaw. I was sitting, plaintive smile, faraway look in my eyes even then, blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, choppy bangs, knees tucked both under and sideways, on the top of the hill of our orchard.
And I fall back, am called back, where 88 acres of orchard defined all the summers of my childhood and young adolescence. Rich Haven and Hale Haven peaches—Alberta Cling peaches, peaches by the peck and by the pound, peaches in half-bushel baskets, Montmorency sour-pie cherries, Sweet Cherries, Bartlett Pears, Concord Grapes, Jonathan, Melrose, Red and Golden Delicious apples. Nectarines, Black Raspberries. My mind drifts. My tongue remembers.
Peach fuzz from picking sticky on my hands and arms, peaches bigger than my fists could hold, sweet, ripe peach juice dripping down my chin. The ’54 Ford tractor with the wagon hooked up, flatbed, empty crates out into the orchard and full crates of peaches coming back on that slow, bumpy ride from bush-hog rough-cut orchard grass clear up to the packing shed.
Dad driving the tractor, his lopsided smile beaming, my sister and I riding on each of the tractor-well wheels, our black lab up on the wagon along with all those crates of peaches that we had picked in the heat of late July and early August sun. The kind of heat that sinks into you in this part of southeastern Ohio. Humid heat. Overhead, brilliant noonday-sun heat. Heat that makes you thirsty—before-anything-else heat.
Grandpa bought that land, 100 acres at the top of Malta Hill, to start an orchard. After WWII. Money from his G.I. Bill. Planted an orchard 4 miles straight up that hill to get all those fruit trees close to the heat of the full Ohio sun. And far enough away from the Muskingum River valley where trees, townspeople, and a stronger chance of a killing frost could wipe out a full crop of peaches.
Memories of so far away and long ago, wispy—as if, almost, they didn’t happen in this lifetime, in my lifetime. And yet still the peaches cling, the orchard clings, a love for planting and growing. A heart for all things earth, sky, trees, plants, flowers, animals, that way of life from so long ago, my love still.
And so on this late August day, I am still who I always was. Perhaps a riper version of self, but still, at my core, that 11-year-old girl sitting atop that hill of our orchard. A bowl of white peaches today centers my table (though these peaches came from California).
And the box they came in? That box belongs to Most Beloved who relishes sitting in (and looking out from) a box clearly labeled “Peaches.”