Pardon my French …
But I am sitting on the back porch of a small white farmhouse just outside of town when that old bromide came to me:
The more things change the more they stay the same …
Which is English for the French.
That aside, I am on my annual pilgrimage to Alabama peach country and the late Leon Easterling’s farm. That puts me on the back porch of a small white farmhouse, sitting with his son Ken who spent his early years helping wrestle a living from the rolling 67 acres that slope up and away from the house.
It is a lovely day in central Alabama. A high blue sky is marked by the contrail of a jet heading west, maybe all the way to California. In the distance, the raucous “c-a-a-w-h! c-a-a-w-h! c-a-a-w-h” of crows is as constant as their flight in time.
From the back porch, you can see a 20-year-old John Deere tractor. There are also three old pickups parked about, a 1982 model, a ’90 and a ’98. All are Chevrolets, all belonged to Ken’s dad.
“I really keep them for sentimental reasons. They were trucks my daddy drove and I’d feel kind of lost without ’em. Sentiment means a lot to me.”
FRIDAYS ONLY: The peach crop is slow coming in this year. Until further notice, Ken Easterling will be in Oxford and Anniston Fridays only at the usual sites: Oxford Regions Bank at 6 a.m., Anniston post office at 8.
But two of them, the ’90 and the ’98 still work, yet haul up to 250 baskets of peaches on each trip to Anniston and Oxford. The ’90 has 180,000 miles on it, the ’98 just over 80,000.
Ken and I talk peaches, remember stories of his dad we’ve told before, but tell again. We philosophize some, talk about faith, wonder just where is heaven. It’s the sort of stuff you hear when old friends gather in groups of at least two.
One of Ken’s remembrances...
“I remember when I was maybe 10 or 11 — somewhere in there — Dad had this ’37 Ford pickup. It was his first truck. This man came by one day and asked Dad if he would move something for him.
“Dad told the man ‘If you got enough cat hair I’ll move anything, anywhere.’
“‘Cat hair’ was Dad’s word for money. For the longest time, people ’round here called him ‘Cat Hair.’”
Having his own “cat hair” seemed like a good thing to the 11-year-old Ken.
“There was this little plot down there in the bottoms we were not using. Dad said ‘It’s yours.’ I told him I was going to plant peas and he said the land was too low for peas.
“I made a good crop, picked and sold ’em to Little Fite’s Grocery in Anniston. Got $39. I thought I had struck oil.”
Ken was along on his dad’s first trip to Anniston and Oxford.
“There were peaches being sold on every corner down here. Everybody was selling peaches. Dad said we had to find a place to sell our peaches were nobody else was selling ’em.
“We got up there – went to a couple of other places first – we sold peaches. You could sell a truckload on one side of town and move to the other side and sell another truckload.
“That first trip was in 1952 and I can always say, from my heart, I’ve never met nicer people than you’ll find in Anniston and Oxford. They’ve been like family to us. That’s something you treasure, something you don’t forget.”
Only once in the 60 years since have the Easterlings failed to have peaches. There was one year the entire crop went bust due to the weather.
Last year was maybe the best ever. This year not so good.
“We’ve got peaches, but they’re down a little bit. Didn’t get enough cold weather. Those June Golds down there are an example. A June Gold needs 650 dormant hours of 45 degrees or less. Didn’t get that this time.”
Considering all the years, how much longer for the Easterlings? After all, son Kenyon lives just next door.
“Won’t happen. Not his thing. I’m not going to set out another orchard. I figure another three or four years and that will be it."
I sat up straight on that one. After all 60 years, his dad and now him. I offered the thought Ken Easterling wouldn’t know what to do with himself without the peaches. That’s when he let a hint of smile slip and ...
“Well, there’s a seven-acre field down there where we’ve never had peaches. Been in pasture most of the time. Last year, at the end of the season, I got in my golf cart and with a little wheel did some riding, clicked it out. You can get 568 trees on that seven acres."
But it is also true nothing is forever and one example of that came in a ride through his tomatoes to the lower edge of the farm. In a corner, stands five aging trees. Ken lifted one limb and took a look at coming fruit with …
“Dad put these out in 1994, ten Georgia Bells. Only these five are still living. Back up that way there are eight more he put out. That’s all that’s left of my dad’s trees.”
But in the meantime, along about 2:30 a.m. Friday, he and wife Faye will crawl out of bed and be on the road by 3:30. It’s breakfast at the Oxford Waffle house and then a few hours of visiting with old friends.
George Smith can be reached at 239-5286 or e-mail: email@example.com