My Mother’s Lonely Peach Tree
By Tom Poland
The old folks planted fruit trees. Pear, apple, cherry, wild plum, and peach trees. Pecan trees too. Vineyards of wild grapes … scuppernongs and muscadines. Folks in general don’t do that anymore. Why should they? Just go to the store and buy fruit that’s waxed and arranged in pretty rows. Nary a tree in sight. Dependent on strangers we are.
Well, it wasn’t always that way. From my deep well of memories rise a small fig tree and one lonely peach tree. I see it now. Lean, green, with tiny peaches. With my back to Mom’s hummingbird feeder looking “11 o’clock way” near the wood’s edge, I still see where it grew. Try as I might, though, I cannot see it in bloom but I remember peaches. Not much bigger than their pits they were; I picked them too early.
Somewhere down the line that tree died. Died of loneliness I suspect. Bereft of an orchard to comfort it. To show how it looked. It’s no more, but memories of it live on and that tree was on my mind when I trekked into Edgefield County a chilly March 1. I got up at 5:15, threw on the coffee, made ready to leave, and arrived in Peach Country just after sunrise. A heavenly sight waited: peach trees in bloom by the scores. Clouds of pink, pale red, coral, a blushing performance of delicate blooms that mesmerize. Case in point. As I was packing up camera gear just off Highway 19, three women pulled in. They rushed over to a tree, posed, and began snapping photos of themselves.
“The trees are beautiful,” I said.
“We never see anything like this,” said a brunette. “We’re from Florida.”
Well, they have orange groves, but a woman down Florida way tells me orange trees aren’t as spectacular as peach trees though they’re fabulously fragrant. As I drove off, the women were giggling and hopping around snapping photos. High on peach trees they were.
Mom and Dad were high on them too. They always looked forward to a summer ritual: driving to Edgefield County to buy peaches. Where they went exactly I’m unsure but they went. Down Highway 378 across the Savannah they drove taking a right onto Highway 28 in McCormick and a left onto Highway 283 in Plum Branch. Plum tickled they were. Across Stevens Creek they went and on to Highway 25 and into Edgefield proper on through to its peach orchards. Back home they came with split-oak baskets overflowing with flavor. It wasn’t long before peach pies, fresh sliced peaches, pickled peaches, and homemade peach ice cream blessed family gatherings.
Knowing how Mom loved flowers I’m sure the drive to Peach Country provided double joy. Good things to eat and a profusion of blooms with few equals. Along the way I’m sure they talked about growing up with fruit trees. The seed was in their blood. Granddad Walker had crab apples and a date tree. Most unusual taste ever, sweet, dry … unworldly … a tad chemical. On Granddad Poland’s farm a fabulous pear tree, heavy with fruit, stood by a barn. Saw my only butchering of a cow at that barn. Once was enough. That pear tree? I’m going to look for it one day, and if it’s there, I’ll photograph it but there’s no going back to photograph Mom’s lonely peach tree.
Well, things change, don’t they. I’m changing too. From now on, I’ll photograph Edgefield County’s pink clouds. Come winter’s end I’ll keep an eye on the weather and the blooms’ progress. Something to do … something to look forward to. Something to remember, like Mom’s lonely peach tree but not its beautiful petals, delicate blossoms that surely drifted across our yard like pink snowflakes. For the life of me, though, I just can’t remember.
Tom Poland is the author of twelve books and more than 1,000 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. The University of South Carolina Press released his book, Georgialina, A Southland As We Knew It, in November 2015 and his and Robert Clark’s Reflections Of South Carolina, Vol. II in 2014. The History Press of Charleston published Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia in 2014. He writes a weekly column for newspapers in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks often to groups across South Carolina and Georgia, “Georgialina.” Find more columns at www.tompoland.net.