The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

John Hayes Hollow - The Cherry Tree

By George C. Parker © 1985

Issue: July, 1985

I remember Mama in the early summer time when the big cherry tree up on top of the mountain was first only a blossom that we had been watching day after day.

When the cherries started to form, my brother and I would get so anxious for the day when Mama would say, "Let's get ready for tomorrow. If it's not raining, we'll go pick the cherries from the big tree up by the mountain field."

We would work most of the day washing jars and hunting the lids so the cherries could be canned. Then we would find our equipment to go pick the next day.

It was a whole family affair and an exciting time. Early the next morning, we were all up doing our chores so we could be ready for the first call from Mama, "Let's go."

Now you would have to see that big cherry tree to believe the rest of this story, but since that's impossible, let me take you back through the years to a 10 year old lad and describe that cherry tree.

It was at least one, maybe one and a half miles high and almost as wide as it was high. Its branches started at the ground and reached out so far, when we parted the limbs, walking under the branches was almost like a fairy land. All the branches were loaded with big green leaves that shaded out most of the sunlight. The big sweet red cherries were hanging on every branch, even the small twigs. It made a picture that words can't describe.

Mama would take her place along side of two or three big buckets. The rest of us would start picking with a small bucket; usually a 2 quart lard bucket.

Jonah, two years older than me, would lead the way, climbing up the tree, with only one branch between us. We had our two quart buckets, a hook to hang the buckets to a branch, and a roll of string in our pocket.

We worked to the tune of: "Be careful, boys and don't get out too far, don't fall, and don't eat any until we get these buckets full. Pick each limb clean and don't fool around because we want to get through and back home in time to get the canning done before dark."

Although we were taught to mind Mama, we knew what we could get by with. So when you're about 3/4 of a mile high in a cherry tree with so many sweet red cherries all around you, how will Mama know if you eat a few, as long as the 2 quart buckets drop down on your string to be emptied into the big buckets. Mama would not say anything, but if the bucket didn't come down as often as she thought it should, we would hear, "Better put a few in the buckets and not so many in your belly," especially if she heard seeds falling to the ground.

It was like a day at the county fair to be up in that big tree stepping from branch to branch, so far up and so far out.

It was a thrill to top any other. Our 2 quart lard buckets would make many trips up and down until all we could reach at every level had been picked.

Finally Mama would say, "Leave the rest for the birds to eat. Let's go home and get these canned."

Now that was a time consuming job. First we washed the cherries and then squeezed the seeds out, one by one.

We always watched Mama bring them to a boil on the stove and add the right spices. Then she filled the jars, putting the lids on and turning them upside down on the table to make sure they were sealed.

Soon the day's work was over and we would sit down to a big supper that was topped off with one of Mama's famous family cobbler cherry pies. Even though our stomachs were overflowing already from sneaking and eating the cherries all day, we could not resist that good supper and Mama's cherry pie, so nice and brown with cherries and butter oozing up among the small mounds of crisp bread. Even the aroma took our appetites to new heights. Let me tell you, Mama's pie was a scrumptious delight that I still remember!