I hate those cats. I really do. Can’t make a single move without one of 'em always watchin’ you or leapin’ out from behind the door at you, like to scare you half to death if you weren’t already. They think I don’t know they’re laughin’ at me when they do that and that just makes me even madder 'cause they think they’re so smart. Been here sixty-one years and had to deal with cats for every damn one of 'em. You’d think we’d come to an understandin’ in sixty-one years, me and the cats, but they don’t hold to their promises. No ma’am, I don’t trust 'em, not a lick.
Now dogs…dogs are generally a nice sort, don’t have that slyness to their nature and as long as you leave 'em be, they’ll leave you to your business. Knock somethin’ over, though, and Lordy, they’ll raise a racket that’ll scare you worse than any cat ever did do. My people don’t have dogs but the people next door – that’s Hetty’s house, the one with the yellow sidin’, though why her people did that to her house, I can’t say…such a shame they took down the old sidin’ and put up that newfangled plastic garbage. Don’t hold with that stuff, no I don’t. They try to make it look like wood but it just looks cheap. Cheap plastic wood. Seems like damn nonsense they take down the real thing and put up somethin’ that’s s’posed to look like it. But I guess they say that plastic stuff is better than wood and who am I to say otherwise.
Where was I? Oh yes, the people next door. Yes, they have themselves a big watchdog, one of those German-breed dogs that snarl at you as soon as look at you. Sergeant, they named him. Keeps Hetty in the house most of the time, the poor thing. I asked her once why she doesn’t just move but she says she likes her people just fine and they treat her good. And they keep him out of Hetty’s way so she can come through our gate when she feels like a visit.
My people are good folks, too, though they did paint the livin' room purple and I’m not sure just yet what I think 'bout that. And there are those cats. But they take good care of me so I’ve got no complaints. We’re still gettin’ to know each other – they’ve only been here a year, after all – but I expect we’ll get on just fine together. And they’re fixin’ up my poor old house instead of bulldozin’ it like those other people did to the orchard next door. Did you know I used to have an apple orchard? Me and my dear George, we had that lot next door and we raised apples trees on it. Never did make much money at it, but it weren’t for money anyway. We just planted it 'cause we loved apples and we loved trees and it seemed as good a thing to use that land for as any. Heavens, we surely did have good times in that orchard. Good memories there. In the summer, late in the summer, when it was hot and the air wasn’t movin’ a lick, you could hear the apples droppin’ down like footsteps. Some days, we’d sit out there and just eat 'em one right after another until we got ourselves a bellyache and couldn’t look at another apple for a week. Funny thing, though, seemed like we’d always forget how sick we were 'cause sooner or later, we’d be out there stuffin’ ourselves full again and gettin’ sick again.
We sure did have a lot of trees over there. We’d be pickin’ apples for months! George insisted we plant four kinds of trees so we’d have apples from July to October...seemed like such a good idea until they started fallin’ and then I’d be cursin’ that man from sunup to sundown. But it surely did make the best applesauce you ever ate and he could brew a mean cider-wine that would lay you on your back for two days. And pies? Lordy, we had so many pies we didn’t know what to do with 'em! I gave 'em away to everyone I knew and it got so’s people were practically showin’ up on our porch 'round the time the first of those pie apples started to drop. 'Course, I always did win the prize at the fair for my apple pies and that Edna Wilkins down the street liked to tie herself into a tight little knot every year knowin’ I was goin’ to beat her and there wasn’t a damn thing the old girl could do 'bout it. She tried stealin’ my apples from the orchard one year but George was out there late pickin’ for a batch of cider and caught her in the act. Gave Edna such a fright that poor George laughed himself till he cried and it took him a whole hour to tell me 'bout it 'cause he just couldn’t stop laughin’ 'bout it. Well, that was the first and last time she tried stealin’ my apples and I think that was the year she stopped botherin’ with an apple entry in the pie contest. Served her right, I say.
'Course, we made sure every kid in the neighborhood had themselves as many apples as they wanted. Especially those Petrovich kids. Their poor mother worked herself to the ground all day long, didn’t have two pennies to rub together, and they were always just a little bit hungry. I think most everyone in the neighborhood fed those kids, on account of their mother bein’ alone and needin’ all the help she could get. There were nine of 'em and she took care of 'em as best she could, but nine mouths to feed is still nine mouths to feed. 'Sides, we all had 'nough to share, even if we weren’t much better off than she was.
Most of us 'round here grew our own food and we all traded with each other so we always did eat real good. Had to grow things...the general store didn’t stock food outside of canned goods and penny candy and fresh food meant a ferry ride up to Sauvie Island at a nickel a ride. The only folks I knew could afford a ferry every week was those Thompsons up on Syracuse and even they didn’t spend that kind of money just to go to Sauvie Island for fruit and vegetables they could grow themselves or trade with us.
Now Hetty, she grew mostly vegetables and canned everythin’ she grew. Corn, beans, peas, beets, radishes, carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, onions, potatoes…she had a regular farm over on her extra lot and she did a nice little business on the side. She had a secret to growin’ things, 'specially corn, and some days we didn’t even bother cookin’ it, just laid it out on the plate alongside the rest of our dinner.
But Hetty’s pride and joy was her cucumbers. Heavens, you never saw cucumbers like hers. Some of her records stand to this day and she’ll be the first one to remind you of that fact. Every year 'round fair time, she’ll say, “Cucumber grand prize, sixteen years runnin’ and no one’s grown a bigger cuke since!” I do love Hetty so but every time she says that, I want to pinch her.
Now, I may be famous for my apple pies but her real talent was her pickles. 'Bout September, she started her pickles, 'bout the same time George was fermentin’ his cider, and the smell between the two was 'nough to knock over a rampagin’ elephant – 'nough vinegar fumes to burn your nostrils till you wondered if you’d ever smell anythin’ again. But she did have a talent for those pickles. Dill pickles, sweet pickles, bread and butter pickles, mustard pickles, hot pepper pickles, pickle relish…she could do more with a cucumber than anyone I ever did meet. Oh, Vivian St. Claire — she lived down the street there, at the bottom of the hill — Vivian swore for years that her pickles were the toast of the town, but I didn’t see no line on her porch come picklin’ time, not one like the line on Hetty’s porch, no ma’am. George and Rufus, that was Hetty’s husband, they had her pickles in their lunch buckets just 'bout every day and soon 'nough, word got 'round the docks down on the riverfront and next thing you know, those fellas were just like clockwork for those pickles of hers and between me with my pies and Hetty with her pickles, it looked like a carnival 'round here for weeks.
'Course, it’s been a long while since she did her pickles. Her people sometimes talk 'bout that scrap of land next door to the house – it’s full of trees and blackberry bushes now, don’t look nothin’ like it did in Hetty’s day – and 'bout plantin’ a garden over there, though I don’t know where they’d find the time. Hetty says they’re gone a lot, workin’, and when they’re not workin’ at their fancy jobs, they’re workin’ on Hetty’s house. She’s put the idea in their heads 'bout cucumbers just the same, and reminded 'em what her pickles tasted like. And her people have been cleanin’ out those blackberry bushes ever since, so maybe she talked 'em into it after all.
She says I ought to put the idea in my people’s heads 'bout apples, get 'em to bring back an orchard, but she knows that’s just plain foolishness. No place for that orchard anymore. Some fool developer came in years ago and bought our extra lot from my people – not the ones who live here now, mind…they wasn’t even born yet when the orchard came down – and told 'em he was gonna build a nice place for a couple families to live next door. Well, I threw a fit – no reason was a good 'nough reason to chop down those trees, to my mind – but they needed the money real bad and they never did listen to a loony old lady anyway. So they got their money but that developer fella put an ugly old apartment buildin’ next door. I would’ve laughed at 'em if it didn’t just make me sick to see those trees disappear. Yep, the day the bulldozer came, I cried and cried until I nearly drove my people out of the house.
Now these younger ones, these two seem like they have sense 'nough to preserve what’s worth preservin’. They’ve done right by me and my old house so far and they’re kind 'nough to listen to this loony old lady when it comes to talk 'bout what to change. Maybe they’re just humorin’ me, but I guess that’s all right too. 'Cept that purple livin’ room...haven’t made up my mind just yet 'bout that.
'Course, there’s still those two apple trees in the backyard so maybe there’s hope for apple pies again if I can bring myself to part with my secret recipe. Last summer, one night when it was hot and still and it reminded me of the old days, I snuck out there and dropped some of those apples on the ground, just to remember what it was like havin’ that orchard. Like to scare those two poor souls straight out of their wits. Sent the cats clean off their rockers, too, which was just icin’ on the cake, you ask me. I wasn’t meanin’ to scare my people, you understand, hadn’t even thought 'bout it really, but I s’pose in the dark, in a new house and a neighborhood you don’t know yet, it’d be a mite scary. Well, I damn near laughed myself to death if I could’ve and all I could think 'bout was my dear George that night Edna Wilkins came to steal my apples.
Yes ma’am, those surely were good times.