By Teresa Starcher
“I told you to hold him still!” Rick scolded as he half fell and half jumped off the wagon shaft.
“I’m trying to! he’s trying to reach that pear”. I exclaimed with exasperation as I tugged at the checklines.
Although the wagon brakes were locked down, Dagwood could still pull it like a sled at least for a few feet. He had roused when he heard a pear drop in front of him and roll away. Instead of further exerting myself in this tug of war, I just gave him his head and he greedily grasped the stray pear in his muzzle and began to rattle his bit in relish. I pulled him back over and repositioned the wagon under the tree hoping that he would champ himself back to sleep so that Rick and Vickie could continue to climb on him and the wagon to better reach the fruit.
Vickie tentatively put her foot upon the wagon tire as she grasped the handlebars of Billy’s wheelchair for support. Although older and a tad taller, she wasn’t lithe and wiry like her cousin, Rick; who was now trying a balancing act upon the shaft by standing on one leg, holding a harness hame in one hand and a branch in the other but leaning over much too far. Billy was quick to rebuke this antic so I thought to reassure Vickie.
“It won’t move…ah much.”
“Yeah, much,” she muttered as she reached for a pear. “Why is it that this sounded so much easier and more fun last night?” she went on to add as Billy chuckled.
“Just pick and grin Miss Jenny Lynn,” he nettled by using the nickname he had dubbed her with a few years ago.
I thought about her declaration and for sure she was right, for when Billy had thought up this venture last night he literally had our mouths watering.
“Yes sir,” he enticed us, “when them good ole pears are ready, about Christmas time, they are so sweet and juicy that when you bite into them the juice will just drip off your chin, why their same as candy.”
Yet, this morning, reality set in as we faced a bit of a nip in the air. We caught up Dagwood and while he munched his grain we had to curry five pounds of dried mud out of his oncoming winter coat before we could put on his harness. Rick was an ole pro at this now but he used to have to stand on a five-gallon bucket to get them on. We had to catch Pap’s coonhound and tie her up for he quarreled at us for letting her tag along; he said we would make a “trash” dog out of her. Then we had to load Billy on the wagon, tie him on, hitch up the pony, do a mental check list of what all we needed to take with us, put it on the wagon: water jug, sacks, and always a knife that Rick carried it in a sheath on his belt, also a gun and shells for we never went out without one, usually a 22 mag., for as Billy said, you never know when you might run onto a varmint. So by the time we had done all this, it was a relief to pile on the wagon and just sit down.
I can’t recall exactly what year this took place, but I think in the fall of ’70. So Vickie and I were just age twelve, Rick nine, Randy about seven and Brenda around five. We were much like little ants gathering for the winter. As the older two picked. The two younger stood by receiving the plucked pears and carefully placing them into burlap sacks. When the sacks started becoming too heavy for the little ones to manage, we took a break to reposition. Rick and Vickie hefted the half filled sacks onto the wagon, and then we went back to filling them up.
On the way home, Billy told us all about the rest of the plan for the pears. So we pulled right up to the back porch where we unhitched and unharnessed Dagwood, watered him at the pump, then turned him out through the back gate .We laughed as he immediately lay down to roll away the sweaty harness lines from his coat. We fed him a couple more green pears as a reward then went back to work.
Two doors were in the corner of our back porch. One led into the kitchen and the other into the hallway along the staircase wherein was what we called the ole dark closet. We were going to prepare the closet to store our Christmas pears; but first we had to clean it out, which presented a problem because there were things in there that we were forbidden to touch .One was Mama’s black, rabbit fur coat, though I didn’t see why since she thought it was too fancy for her and never wore it anyway, yet I couldn’t resist touching and stroking it from time to time. Another was Pap’s tobacco sack. He had grown the tobacco himself and twisted it into plugs that he stored in this thick, white linen bag, hung upon a nail. So Mama oversaw our work and helped by carrying her quilt piece box and others upstairs. Then we found an old tarp and put it down followed by tore up brown paper bags and finally a layer of newspaper finished the bed where we carefully laid our pears to rest until they were deemed just right.
Although out of sight they must have been on our mind for every few days one of us would inquire as to when our promised treat would be just right. We were told not to worry for Billy also assured us that he would know and inform us. Yet, it was Pap who “started the ball rollin’”as Mama used to say. Right after dark, on a bitter cold evening with a skiff of snow on the frozen ground. We had long had supper and was settled in on the floor around the T.V., awaiting some Christmas special, I believe Bing Cosby. I had heard Pap get up and go out the hall door but we didn’t pay any attention even when he returned and sit back down until we heard his penknife click just as Billy inquired.
Our heads spun around, then we froze with wide eyes transfixed on Pap, our mouths hanging open with bated breath.
“Yeap,” he replied simply just as the sweet aroma drifted to us as he deftly began removing the peeling. We well nigh fell overtop of each other bolting for the doorway. Thereafter the song of “White Christmas” was accompanied by the crunch and slurps of us literally enjoying the fruits of our labor.