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Archive for the ‘Three Springs, PA’ Category

The Pennsylvania Fish and Wildlife Commission stocks the ‘crick’ in Three Springs with trout. Former President Jimmy Carter fished in nearby Trough Creek State Park when he was the President. There was rumor he sometimes came to Huntingdon County. Funding he likely made available must still be around, because every Spring, just as tiny tributaries lapping down a sandstone mountain rush into what townspeople call “the crick”. men with buckets stand on bridges and dump rainbows into the rapids and watch as every unsuspecting insect hovering near or around this slow part of the crick, vanish instantly as the fish make their way in both directions.

To those who live in this little part of Appalachia, a creek is a waterway that flows through a place of importance, like Washington D.C. The crick is what the government stocked to help feed those in need.

Following the collapse of the sandstone mining industry in the 1940′s, fishing was nearly the only occupation in Three Springs.

The borough used tax dollars to maintain not only a larger than Olympic size public pool, but managed to keep the largest of its streams well- stocked with rainbows and brook varieties. The once blue-collar town, through hard economic times, blossomed because of that crick and the fish placed there. Most of the town was on some form of public assistance. Not only was there free cheese and butter, but Carter let them eat fish.

Fishing and hunting became the favored recreational hobby and a means of survival for the decedents of sandstone miners who continued to live in Three Springs. Men were proud that sand for the largest telescope at the time came from stand harvested here. After the quarry closed, a means of scraping up a living there trickled away.

The population of Three Springs was only several hundred in 1976, and the ratio of fish to men was nearly 1 to 500 thanks to Jimmy Carter.

Three Springs was known for excellent fishing holes. With a pair of hip-boots and the right bait, one was likely to catch the daily limit of seven, or at least have a few stories to tell after a day of roaming the somewhat greenish waters, drinking Iron City beer.

The best fishing holes in Three Springs were accessible only by foot and sportsmen desiring seclusion while fishing could walk along the abandoned East Broad Top Railroad tracks, and steer clear of heavy brush.

The only note worry tourist attraction in this neck of the woods is the East Broadtop Railroad in nearby, Orbisonia. The railroad is the only single engine steamer of its kind still in operation. Train enthusiasts travel from Oregon to ride on it. Part of the tracks run along the crick in Three Springs. When there was mining of fine sandstone being done in Three Springs, it had to be hauled from the mountain somehow. The crick simply was not deep enough for boats, but the crick proved to be the most logical of places to build train tracks. Fishing the creek banks was made possible in the ’80’s due to the brush free walkways along the rails. Coal had fallen from locomotives years ago and littered banks with what seemed like charcoal. A faint odor, usually on cool, wet mornings,hit one like the smell of a freshly lit grill to an attendee of the Smith Family Reunion.

Avoiding the swamps filled with patches of skunk weed was easy. Fishers cast their lines into a mountain stream without having to fight for the best currents or sit shoulder to shoulder with other fishermen with lines in the water.

Few waded upstream where the big trout hid among slime covered crick rocks. Women in Three Springs never fished. The weeds were thick along the riverbanks and if wading, one could easily stump a toe.

My brother Bill was often the only one brave enough to wade and fish the crick upstream. Our home was atop the hill in Three Springs. Bill followed a deer trail down the mountainside. He knew that most of the stocked trout migrated to cooler waters upstream where very few rods were ever cast.

Getting to the best fishing spots in Three Springs was easy for a kid who loved to fish. He tumbled down the mountainside with his fishing pole in one hand and fresh bait in the other. Most often, when I tagged along, I was empty handed, with no interest in fishing but wanting to look for sunk-weed which amazed me because it smelled not only like a skunk when kicked, but rumor was, some people ate it.

Getting home with an armload of trout was difficult. The river there was untouched and its banks unpolluted by beer cans and cigarette wrappers. Only we were rambunctious enough to traipse down the hill behind Miller’s Diner and make our way through the thorns.

It seemed Jimmy Carter must have used Marine 1 to get there.

Bill had a fishing bait business. He sold live minnows and nightcrawler worms. A small stream behind our trailer– another for which the town of Three Springs is named–was the perfect spot for keeping inventory.

Fishermen driving by or having breakfast at Miller’s diner across the street, spotted a sign in our front yard–

“Live Bait”

Bill netted his stash of minnows from the creek below Miller’s Diner, where he loved to fish. He used sweet corn from a can and a wire-mesh cylinder contraption for harvesting the fish. He tied the wire tube to a rotted tree that fell over a portion of the crick showered in heavy currents. He knew that rarely did anyone fish that part of the crick, nor would they ever dare to crawl out on the log like a monkey, as Bill could do with his eyes closed, to steal the device and the captured minnow bait within.

Minnows entered the trap by swimming through small holes at the end of an inverted cones on each side. The apparatus was designed with funnel-like entrance ways at which point, the minnows could not see to escape.

The minnows filtered in effortlessly, lured by the scent of sweet corn that bill dumped inside. Unable to recognize the two exit holes among the mesh of wire, the tiny fish were stuck, for now the way out was no longer a funnel-like passageway, but a mere point on a cone and everyone knows—fish are color-blind.

Bill emptied his minnow trap every morning into the little stream behind our trailer. A partially-submerged plastic bucket with holes on the sides and bottom hung by a chain from a tree limb and stuck into the water over where we built a dam. When a customer stopped by, Bill simply lifted the bucket and removed the live inventory.

Nightcrawlers were captured from our front yard. We used flashlights at dusk to find the worms that came to the surface of the soil to get air following rains or sprinklings from the garden hose.

Steady hands were necessary for extracting the nightcrawlers from holes in the ground. Pulling too fast caused them to snap. One first pinned the smelly creatures with two fingers and waited for the worm to tire, and slowly tugged the slippery creatures like pennies from a jar.

After each nightcrawler was pulled alive and intact from the ground, they were tossed into plastic tackle boxes that fastened to our belts. We moved slowly across the lawn, often shaking our flashlights to regenerate fading batteries, pulling what was on business standards, ten-cents a pick.

Nightcrawler inventory was maintained in the tractor shed inside a large wooden box filled with topsoil, dead leaves, and used coffee grinds.

We had a steady stream of customers. Fred Parks, an avid fisherman who was rich on Three Springs standards, made a purchase almost every Saturday morning.

I bought my own shoes for the second grade on nightcrawlers.

“Do you got any of those stick worms today,” Fred often asked. Stick worms were taken from atop Jack’s Mountain, near the abandoned sandstone quarry, where a spring bubbled from the ground and formed an ice-cold pond.

An unusual worm that covered itself with a camouflaged shell of decayed leaves and sticks lived in those waters. Fishermen could strip away the shell and find inside, the juiciest of white worms that no fish in the world could swim by.

Fred paid $3 a piece for stick worms, but like wild raspberries along fishing spots in a creek, finding stickworms was not easy and the walk up Jack’s Mountain to that icy pond, took almost an hour.

For every dollar we made, Bill pocked seventy-five cents because he caught most of the bait. I was often disgusted by smell of worms on my fingers and never would I crawl across the crick on a log to pull up the minnow trap. I maintained the dam mostly and was content with my quarter.

Our uncle Frank Brown fished the Auwick Creek in Orbisonia almost every Saturday in summer. He bought a minimum of forty fresh nightcrawlers every time he took his canoe out on those muddy waters. We knew almost all our customers, but one morning in 1976, a stranger knocked on the trailer door at 4 a.m. to buy bait.

“You got a customer,” Mom said, turning on the light in our bedroom. Bill crawled like a stick worm from the top bunk, stepping on my arm that dangled from the side of my lower mattress. Barron, sharing the bottom bunk with me had peed on my back.

“Get up, Charlie,” Bill yelled. “If you want your quarter, you gotta get- up and help me.”

“Who do you think it is at this hour?” I asked.

“Probably Max Parks. He’s always up early.”

A stranger dressed in a suit was standing on the front porch.

“Good morning. I’d like forty dollars worth of live bait.”

“Forty dollars?” I asked, rubbing bird shit from my sleepy eyes. “That’s almost everything we got.”

“Do you have a bucket?” Bill asked. The man in the suit indicated that he did not.

“We have some milk cartons,” I said. “You’ll need something to put stick worms in. Do you want any stick worms? They are five dollars a piece.”

“I guess so,” the man in sunglasses ordered. The sun wasn’t up yet. “What else to you sell?”

“Nightcrawlers, minnies and stickworms. That’s it,” Bill informed.

“I’ll take twenty in nightcrawlers, twenty in minnows and ten in stick worms.”

“That’s just two stick worms,” I reminded.

“I tell you what. Make it thirty-five dollars worth of those stick worms for a total of seventy-five dollars,” the man said winking at me, as if I already knew everything there was to know about how Washington works.

I considered giving up my paper route that morning. Riding the hills of Three Springs on a bicycle, delivering newspapers for less than five cents a piece, was hard work. It felt like I was a miner. After selling our entire live bait inventory in just one day in one simple delivery, I was convinced that life as a fisherman was easier than that of a writer.

A shipment of 250 Huntingdon Daily News newspapers arrived on our front porch on Monday evening. I cut the bundle open with a pair of scissors and sat on the front step to wrap seventy-five copies with red rubber bands realizing I should be hunting nightcrawlers. On the front page of the paper was our President, Jimmy Carter who stopped in Huntingdon County to fish again.

According to headlines, President Carter went fishing in an undisclosed region of Southern Huntingdon and managed to catch seven fish that day. My hands, covered in black ink, trembled as I folded the papers– knowing that I, with a stick-worm, would catch my limit too.

Jimmy Carter made the news that day, but I knew I would one day write a story about it and get rich.

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Heavy springtime rains saturated the wooded topsoil of the forests of Three Springs, PA. Winters that were spent filling hungry stoves with chopped wood melted away as the musty scent of burnt ash vanished and was replaced with cool, crisp air that seemed almost drinkable.

As blizzard snows melted away, tiny streams that ran amuck gathered into tributaries that could wash out entire driveways. Bob Cat, as my step-dad was called on the CB radio, carved a ditch with a backhoe back in ’72.

We needed dry land to keep our trailer from washing off the small ridge upon which it was parked. The deep channel, four feet deep at the time of original construction, had caved- in due to erosion and what was left was a little Grand Canyon in my view.

Despite the danger of catastrophic floods upon our land, I found the perfect location to build a dam that exists, in a near natural perfection, to this day. A natural mound appears amidst the willows– a little hump in the land, back where saplings once fought with sprouting acorns for the right to sunlight. I called the mound across the trench ‘Lady Slipper Dam’, but no matter how many of the orchids I attempted to transplant to the breast of my little Hoover, those delicate tissue tulips did not transplant well and were wiped- out due to my unquenchable desire to build a dam upon that little stream.

Like a beaver in heat, I flooded fields of the pretty flowers away, and as of 2016, none of the nearly extinct orchids exist on this piece of land despite the many years the pink little flowers spent attempting to make a comeback under the harsh sunlight of summer that came after neighbors moved in behind us just above the trench that marked a property boarder.

Bobcat never named the creek he dug to keep the basement under our green and white mobile home dry, but his common sense led to the creation of man made water-way that I, almost single-handedly, was able to tame for the purpose of forming a summertime lake that survived droughts of August. I spent so much time playing there, alone and with friends, upon the little damn that deserved a name.

The cool little pond glittered when shreds of filtered sunlight dripped through an umbrella of oaks and pines. Trout my brother Bill caught in a local creeks were brought home in buckets and thrived there. A million mosquitoes must have hovered up there at night, because our pet fish got fat, and lived most comfortably, at least until winter came and Lady Slipper Lake froze solid. We never knew where the trout went when the pond froze, and always assumed that a bear or raccoon got to them in the shallows of November.

A dam of mud and rock made one handful at a time was covered with moss gathered from northern sides of century- old locusts and elm. The organic carpet took to root upon the clay mounds. I dug deep down to find clay to use– chopping my way with chunks of broken sandstone through the roots of trees that seemed so long; my hands were cruddy and fingernails were encrusted with topsoil.

The damn was built a bit stronger, year after year.I chased spring showers like kick-balls. The neighbor boys came over to help– Chris Smith, shortstop of the Three Springs little league team was there to build. Chris had a grandmother who owned Miller’s Restaurant– a coffee shop across the road, downhill from our place, where eventually, that little ditch gave way to a more natural stream and crossed under a bridge on Hudson Street. The muddied currents we stirred passed down a gully just West of Miller’s Diner.

Chris lived in a trailer next door. When he wanted to come out to play with my three brothers and I, he’d stop at his grandmother’s restaurant and pick up four cans of Donald Duck orange juice. Chris always had a can of snuff too.

“What younz doin’ ta-day?” Chris would ask, handing us the offerings. Chris was an only child and lived with his mother. Like us, Chris’s parents were divorced, but Chris’s mom had not yet secured a second husband, and worse-off for Chris was the fact that he did not have any brothers. He thought of the dam as his too, although it was on our land.

“Puttin’ in a spill-way,” I explained, showing Chris a piece of plastic tubing I found in Bobcath’s race car garage.

Before finishing his juice, Chris would dig into the clay trench and grab handfuls of material for the damn. Brian Hoffman sometimes came over. He lived next door to Chris. The arguments over how to increase the size of the lake without having to take down the old dam and put up a new one were as common as our screams and yells when we played with a Nerf football in Brian Hoffman’s yard where there was another lake– a septic tank that bubbled like an untapped oil field somewhere in Iraq. His yard was so dry, with the exception of that black little pond, that clumps of grass only grew here and there, like Lady Slippers once did before I built that dam.

Tadpoles– the infestation of tadpoles that happened in our lake the first year we built it– handfuls of jelly with tiny spots inside. We had to take mounds of the tadpole embryos out of that lake, just to see our spillway work! We tossed them like Nerf footballs and played tackle on the moss and Lady Slippers near Lady Slipper Dam.

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Paddles

I stuck a garden hoe between the curved handlebars of my ten-speed bicycle. Bill carried the rake. We pedaled five miles from our home in Three Springs to our family’s huge vegetable garden located on a piece of land next to Bob Garlock’s junk yard . Most children were sleeping at 6 a.m. on hot summer mornings. We were up early. We wanted to beat the heat of day.

According to our stepfather, Bob, conditions of the garden and the weeds within was “unacceptable” and worthy of a beating “across the arse” with a wooden paddle. Bob made his prized paddle in a carpentry shop which once his racecar garage. He called the wooden paddle ‘the reminder’ and carved not only holes in the object for extra sting, but actually wrote the word “reminder” on the damned thing. Like the rake stuck between my handlebars, the wooden paddle was kept on a shelf near the aluminum door of our green and white trailer.

It seemed unfair to Bill and me that our parents chose not buy canned vegetables. Instead, we grew enough corn, tomatoes and potatoes to feed our entire town. Our step-father worked away on construction jobs during the summer. He left strict orders on what chores needed to be done before he returned home on Fridays.

“You kids think life is easy. When I was your age, I spent all day in the fields. We didn’t have swimming pools when I was a kid. Let me tell you, if I find one weed in the garden or if it ain’t hoed right, you will be restricted from playing little league and going to the swimming pool for the rest of the summer!”

The land on which we grew our crops belonged by Bob Garlock. He purchased a large piece of property that was once a pig farm and had plans of converting it to a junkyard. Garlock was a used car salesman and best friends with our stepfather whose name was also Bob. It angered Bill and me that Ryan and Robbie Garlock, the sons of the used car dealer, didn’t have to work in the gardens that their father had planted next to ours. Although their fields had weeds, their crops seemed to do just as well. Bill concluded that our step-father simply liked to torment us and enjoyed making our young lives a living hell. I tried to stay happy, keep a smile on my face and I always whistled when I worked. At least Bill had his joy of fishing. Restriction from the town swimming pool would ruin what little joy their was left to my creative and playful side.

Mom typically drove us in our family’s blue Chevy pick-up truck to the garden, but Bob decided that the family could save on gas if we rode our ten-speed bikes to the gardens instead—
“Your bikes costs me a couple hundred dollars last Christmas. It ain’t gonna hurt you to ride your bikes to the garden. Your mom has got enough to do. Just be careful on the roads. Watch for traffic. Be ready, because we are going to have to start watering soon. If you think weeding is bad, just wait ‘til you carry two ten gallon buckets at a time.”

A thunderstorm swept over the rolling farmland of Central Pennsylvania just as we were half-way to the garden. We took off our drenched t-shirts and continued pedaling in the downpour, thankful that it was still early summer and rain was falling. The rain felt good. At 6 a.m. it was already eighty-five degrees.

The tall weeds that littered perfectly parallel rows of corn came out easy, thanks to the rain. Bill quickly finished weeding twenty- three rows of corn. I finished my task of dusting the potatoes with lime sifted through a burlap sack. I joined my brother to help him finish weeding the seemingly endless rows of corn. I heard a faint cry ahead of me, from Bill, way down the row where there seemed to be a stirring among the tall tops of green corn. I continued to remove all the weeds until I arrived to discover what was making the corn commotion.

“There’s a raccoon caugtht in one of the traps. Get me a club or big stick!”

Our step-father placed metal, spring traps throughout the garden to keep the wild game at bay. Rarely did we catch anything. The animals seemed to know not to touch the sardines that were placed on the traps and preferred eating the fresh corn instead.

The huge creature looked at us with frightened black eyes. The animal’s foot was caught in the trap.

“What are we going to do?” I asked Bill.

“Gotta kill it. Can’t set it free now. It will die.” He explained.

I handed him the hoe that was once a long set of wooden handle bars. I closed my eyes as my big brother slammed the hoe upon its head, as if the entire task was as trivial as putting a stick-worm on a hook.

When the raccoon finally stopped moving, we finished weeding.

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Beatty’s gas station was located next to the First National Bank in the heart of Three Springs. Deb Smith sat on black wooden bench inside the air-conditioned store and smoked Marlboro cigarettes until it was time for her late night shift at a sowing factory to begin. Her shaven white legs, although slightly jaggy to the touch, rested as if on lazy-boy recliner. Deb’s freckled arm moved slowly up and down as a cold soda bottle chilled her skinny lips. Her freshly painted fingernails dripped with dew from Mountain Dew.

The view from that black wooden bench was the best in town. By glaring out a large, glass window, Deb watched every car come and go; of course there was not much traffic in the little town, so keeping an eye on traffic was like baby sitting a kid that slept all day.

At the intersection outside that big window there was one flashing traffic light that coordinative all movement through Three Springs. It blinked red on one side, and flashed yellow on the other, throwing caution to all traffic coming into town from the town of Waterfall.

Deb sat there like a cat all afternoon, just watching cars come and go into the gas station—it was the perfect location to see and be seen by everyone, unlike Deb’s back yard on the outskirts of town where she often sat in a lawn chair woven from synthetic, nylon straps, from which she read thick romance novels under the sun. I could see Deb from my own back yard and often passed her sitting on that chair on my way to play with her son Chris.

“What’s that stuff you are putting on your skin?” I asked, “You are getting really dark.”

“Well, hello, Charlie Taylor,” she said looking up from the book with a nearly naked muscular man on the cover. Deb always greeting me using my full name, “This is a mixture of egg yolks, baby oil and melted butter—it makes a tan last longer,” she explained.

I robbed the junk drawer inside our trailer every morning before heading out the door and over to Chris and Deb’s trailer. Often, my stepfather, while emptying his pockets of ‘junk’ tossed in his unwanted pennies inside the drawer. There were always enough pennies for me to get a mouthful of gumballs sold at the gas station where Deb hung out in and where her son played video games until it was time for the pool to open.

It took an entire quarter to play the popular video games that Chris and almost all the other kids in town were addicted too. Only the quarters that I found at the bottom of the Three Springs pool gave me access to these new technical machines, and I would much rather buy a can of snuff than waste money on a machine that really did not offer anything, other than a few moments of thrills that ended with a sad “Game Over”.

No one was better than Chris Smith on Ms. Pacman—he got the highest score every week. Old man Beatty offered $5 prizes every Friday night to the kid who made the highest score on any of his pinball machines or newer video games.

Randy Marlin, also from a single child household like Chris Smith, had handfuls of quarters to spend on those machines. One Friday afternoon, Chris topped Randy’s high score on Ms. PacMan. Old man Beatty came through a door from behind the cash register counter with a piece of white cardboard—the back side of an empty cigarette carton, and wrote “Chris Smith—160,000’ and hung the card above the video game that Randy Marlin had “dominated” with the high score and little billboard since Monday morning. Randy was angry. He dropped another quarter into the machine and his skinny hand rotated the red joystick like a paintbrush—

“You’re mother’s a fucking whore,” Randy Marlin noted to Chris, rubbing his sweaty hands on his jeans. “Your mother hangs out here all day, picking up any man who she thinks might marry her and feed you. No wonder you can play so fucking good. You have no home to go to, but this dirty old gas station.”

Chris Smith, who had just got a curly perm in his long brown hair giggled at Randy’s comment and replied, “Well at least my dad ain’t a drunk like some people’s. My dad is a photographer for the ‘Daily News’. If ya don’t believe me, go right out there and look at today’s paper. His name is on the front page again,” Chris gave Randy the middle finger as Randy pretended not to see; his skinny white hand rotating that stick a mile a minute.

Chris, plucking his new curls with a pick that “black people used”, turned to me and asked– “Hey Charlie, you want a pop before we go to the pool?”

I knew what Chris was talking about when he offered me a soda—it was not a pop from Beatty’s, that I knew. Chris would never give away a quarter for a soda when he could use it to play Ms Pac Man instead. Chris learned a new trick outside of the video game screen. He could steal cans of soda from a pop machine in front of the Three Springs Fire Hall.

Chris could reach his hand inside the machine, somehow without getting cut, and pull out cans of soda—mostly the brand Mello Yello, because, Chris explained, it was closest to the chute where he could reach over a cold metal bar down into. Chris pulled the beach towel he had around his neck over his head as we walked back outside, under the hot sun.

“I’ll see you in the morning, Mom,” Chris shouted as we left Beatty’s.

Randy never came to the pool with Chris and I, or the rest of the little league team for that matter. It was a well- known fact that although Randy could play second base better than anyone, he could not swim or go under water without holding his nose. He played video games all day instead—just he and Deb Smith inside that cool store as the daylight hours passed.

Every time Randy Marlin, who was no fish, ran back to the store counter for more quarters, there she was—Deb Smith with her feet up, drinking another orange or grape soda, just staring out that window as if the world itself was a video game. It made him sick, in a way, the way she was, not a good housewife like his own mother. Randy hated swimming, and more than that, he hated the fact that Deb, Chris’s mom, hung out at Beatty’s with him all day.

“Hey, there, Randy Marlin,” Deb said. “You were good in the little league game yesterday. I saw you hit that double.”

“I’ve been having trouble with my wrist, that’s why it wasn’t a homer,” Randy explained, holding up his skinny arm to show off a new pair of sweatbands he was wearing.

On hot afternoons with the rest of his friends and team at the pool, Randy stayed inside that air conditioned, windowless arcade, wiping his head with those sweat bands, and permitting his mind to roam within the graphics of the fancy new game in town—his pencils and brushes were now somewhere in a box under his bed. HIs creativity had been re-focused due to technology. He was now obsessed on topping a new high score, one that would last even after the machine was unplugged at night.

Deb just waited there, watching out that window for a car to come down the hill and pass through the intersection with the flashing yellow light—Ms Pac Man she was, in a way, at least according to Randy Marlin.

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Christmas lights were more beautiful before they were made in Japan. Huge bulbs did not flash; when one went out, the string did not suffer from an electrical plague that made all black.

 

Aluminum icicle strands, no wider than yarn were woven on real trees. Like our ham, we sealed in freshness with the silver strands of thread foil. The huge bulbs were sometimes chipped of paint, causing an illusion of a real candle to appear on the tree. Those lights were so striking alongside the waterfalls of silver. Artificial snow in a can was not around. They strung popcorn on thread and wrapped it about.

 

A bicycle was what every boy wanted before the year Space Invaders and Atari invaded our homes. That was the year they came out with flashing strings of light so small and annoying that one rarely turned his eyes from the screen and a new row of critters that did not cost twenty-five cents a game to shoot, like the real ones in video arcades.

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Betina Taylor won the blue ribbon for canned peaches at the Huntingdon County Fair in 1970. Betina’s name appeared in “The Huntingdon Daily News” as did all other winners of canned fruits, vegetables and preserves that year. She used her $8 winnings to get drunk at Keller’s bar in downtown Huntingdon. While celebrating her accomplishment as being published as one of the best potential house-wives in the county, she confessed to a bar tender that evening that she had cheated in winning the top prize. She thought the entire affair was really quite hysterical, especially since most people in Huntingdon thought of Betina as more of a tomboy than the dainty, girlish women who almost always took blue ribbons from the county fair.

Betina wore her silky, blue prize like a necklace as she sat at Keller’s and ordered a second Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. A beer was only fifty-cents then, and peaches were a dime a dozen in August.

The ribbon she took home from the fair was draped like a flag around her freckled neck. It rested between her sweaty cleavage like a wet piece of toilet paper stuck to an ass that had just been spanked. She blabbed loudly with a red face and guzzled her beer like men who surrounded her. Even the young farm boys at the back of the bar playing pinball heard her story.

She described, as she chugged down her beer like a thirsty cow, how she managed to fool the “expert judges” who were “supposed to be so fucking knowledgeable about canning”, but in reality knew nothing. The judges at the fair never actually tasted what was packed neatly inside of jars. She had proven her hypothesis that her father’s peaches were the sweetest in all of Huntingdon, but never as yellow as was needed to secure the top spot at the Huntingdon County Fair. Betina figured out how to can peaches that were as golden as the sun in morning or at sunset, and as she ordered a third beer, and patrons at the bar gathered nearer to her and sat on round bar stools, the truth about the winning peaches from 1970 spilled out that night. They all laughed like little girls when she finally told them the truth, and by the time all her winnings had been spent that night, the beers kept coming, because in Keller’s Bar, Betina never needed a dime of her own to get drunk and would treat anyone who was thirsty, as long as she still had money in her blue jeans.

The Taylor family of Stone Creek Ridge won several second- place red ribbons and cheesy, third-runner-up, white ribbons, for their peaches in the 1960’s, Never until Betina did the canning on top of an old, cast-iron, wood-burning cooking stove, did the peaches from George Taylor’s orchard take the coveted spot at the county fair.

“What kind of jars did you use?” The bartender asked, wiping the polished oak bar top with a wet white cloth. “They say the old blue- tinted Bell jars with porcelain lids work better than those new Mason jars with flat lids and a screw- on ring.” He carefully placed a fresh napkin under Betina’s beer, making sure to keep the beverage far enough from Betina’s swinging arms that moved just as fast as her thin, lips.

“Those old jars are a pain in the ass,” Betina explained. “Half of them don’t seal shut. I used Mason jars and didn’t even need a pressure cooker. Mom always put lemon juice and salt on her peaches before she stuffed them into jars, but the damned things never turned orange like mine did. I never understood why she canned so many damned peaches anyway. She always sold them, and I bet if you factored in the cost of the sugar it took to make a syrup bath that they are canned in, she lost money in the process. How can they figure out who has the best canned peaches at the fair if they never taste the damned things?” Betina asked the crowd.

“They look for blemishes on the fruit, how it was pealed, and stuff like that,” an old man holding a shot of whisky over his dry lips and unshaven chin explained. It was Joe McCall whose wife, an excellent canner, had passed onto glory two years prior, and Joe missed the hell out of having a good woman around.

“You are goddamned right they look for soft spots and stuff like that. That’s my big secret– how to get perfectly round peaches, all of the same size, into a jar without them looking homemade or all mushy,” Betina shot back. “Just wait until next year, I’ll win all the fucking ribbons if I want.”

Joe McCall slowly sipped his whiskey and wondered if ever Betina would get drunk enough at the bar to at least offer him a blow job.

“You goddamned Taylor’s are all a bunch of fucking crooks, just quit bragging and tell us how you cheated the contest judges, like that sister of yer’s, ‘the Red Arrow Bea’. Why don’t you tell us all how she done canned half the drunk fuckers that come into this bar,” a man with a hanky over his balding head shouted. A long gray pony- tail rested on his left shoulder atop a black t-shirt that was heavily dotted in white dandruff.

“You gotta wash yer jars good, in hot, soapy water first,” Betina explained, ignoring the ignorant man. “And then after you wash all the suds off, you gotta keep the jars in real hot water until the peaches are stuffed in. That prevents infections from getting in, like it does your peckers. You know, some people die from eating shit that ain’t canned right. Some people will even cook their peaches for a minute or two to soften them, but Mom never did, neither did I.” Betina laughed, burped, took a deep breath and continued– “Don’t ever forget to leave a little space at the top of the jar so air can get in and so the fruit settles just perfectly. Make sure you got a rack to put the jars on, cause if you put them right in boiling water, they’ll bump up against each other and crack. I only boiled my peaches for about ten minutes. When I took them out, I made sure to shut all the windows in the house because they say that if there is a draft, the jars will not make that popping sound and seal shut.”

“You ain’t telling us nothing about canning we didn’t already know,” the bartender insisted. “I bet it’s those peaches your daddy planted up there on the ridge, years ago, before he died. His peaches are the real reason why you took home the blue ribbon. He was such a good farmer.”

“You wanna know why I won?” Betina asked, reaching for her can of beer. “I didn’t even use those fucking peaches from dad’s trees. I’m so goddamned sick of those things, I could just spit. We was poor you know. Hell, sometimes, I ate canned peaches for breakfast before going to school and had to shit before class even started. Is it any wonder I turned out so damned dumb? Well I guess I’m not that dumb, because I won $8 for taking two cans of peaches I bought at the store and canned them the old-fashion way. Mom watched me do it. Said I should be ashamed of myself for even trying it. Well guess what? These Blue Ribbon’s tasted pretty damned good.” Betina laughed loudly and grabbed the blue ribbon around her neck as if it were an expensive string of pears and waited until one of the men offered to buy her another beer.

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Rain from thunderstorms filled the rain barrel at the base of my grandmother’s trailer. A steel metal drum rested on cinder blocks under a rainspout beneath her bedroom window. An aluminum spouting ran the entire length of her pink trailer, catching droplets that hit the tin roof over the living room, carrying the precious liquid element to a place in her front yard, just yards away from a vegetable garden. She used a recycled coffee can to carry water from the barrel to the garden that she tended to every day. She poked holes in the bottom of the can with a nail.

Running quickly to her flowers with that can, she flew up and down rows of cabbage scattering her captured showers, days after the rain had fallen. She worked from sunrise until it got too hot, always watering in the morning because “plants like it like that,” she explained to me in the manner that grandmother’s toy with the imaginations of those in the next generation– “Did you hear God moving furniture last night?” she asked as I carefully scooped dead bugs and moths from atop the water in the barrel as our supply slowly depleted.

On June mornings, on my way from the old farmhouse, running past the chicken coop on a path in the yard where my bare feet had carved a brown trail, I’d stop to pick up a mulberry or two. I was always careful running though the green grass of the yard, avoiding white patches of clover where yellow jacket bees were known to be. The pain of their stings was like that I had ever known—in between my toes a little stinger one day was planted. I screamed at the top of my little lungs– running all the way to Esther’s trailer. I squished mulberries between a space in my bite where a tooth had been lost, happy that day I did not get stung. My frail body quivered at the rush of purple sugar from a mouth full of mulberries. I didn’t bother eating around the little green stem they each had. Cold rain water trickled over the top of the barrel. I was tempted to jump in, but it was too cold. Instead I put my face in first, holding my nose, proving to myself that I could swim. Into the rain barrel I splashed my arms up to the elbows, rinsing my hands mostly clean of the purple stains. I knew not to touch Esther’s polyester pants when I got inside and hugged her leg. She made us cups of instant coffee despite what my mother had said about how chatty it made me.

 

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