& the Cherry Tree

Branch of tree with cherries growing

You may recollect the tale that George Washington chopped down his father’s cherry tree as a young lad. The story goes that, when he was interrogated by his father, he uttered the repentant oath: “Father, I cannot tell a lie.”

Although we heard this anecdote when I was in elementary school — and I suppose that my teacher’s main motivation was to give our impressionable minds a simple lesson about honesty — historians now say that the Father of Our Country probably didn’t actually axe his father’s orchard. Oh, well, it’s still a memorable illustration for school children.

I wonder why George would have cut down the cherry tree, anyway. When I was growing up, our backyard cherry tree brought us great joy. At least, the pies, jams, and other treats that we gained from its branches of fruit, engaged our family’s collective sweet tooth. Also, cherry-picking was a unifying project that my mom, dad, sister and I could share, albeit briefly.

As I remember it, we would gather a pretty impressive harvest from our backyard tree. My sister and I would glean the literal low-hanging fruit, and my parents would use a stepladder to pick the sour, deep-red cherries from the upper branches. I don’t know how long my sister and I would pick before we lost interest, but we did our best to help. I also don’t know how many successful cherry-picking seasons we had; by the time I was in college, the tree had been removed for some reason that I don’t recall.

But in the summer days of the 1960s, when we had gathered our cherry crop into the house, Mom would go to work. I can picture her standing over our electric stove, pouring paraffin wax to top off jars & jars of home-canned jam.

It was cool downstairs in our basement, so we had a special cabinet under the stairs where Mom squirreled away her stash of cherry jam goodness. We would share jam with my grandparents, and my Grandma would also give us some of her Rhubarb & Pineapple jam. If our family was careful, we could make our stash stretch for several months.

Our basement was extremely popular with the spiders, and I remember running downstairs to grab a jam jar, looking all around to make sure that I wouldn’t walk into an arachnid’s web. The payoff for putting a pause on my arachnophobia: spreading my toast with some delicious tart jam from our very own yard. I never have learned the secrets of canning homemade jams as Mom could make… but maybe someday I’ll give it a try.

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