CLANTON — The old man’s house has a new roof.
His son did that just over a year ago, but the aging white asbestos siding remains a problem. It will not take the fasteners vinyl siding needs. And so it sits, empty since the old man died back in ’02.
His name was Leon Easterling and his only son, Ken, now drives the old man’s aging pickup twice a week during the peach season to Oxford and Anniston. It is a family tradition as much as it is about making a bit of money.
I am here on what you might say is an annual pilgrimage to see how the winter of cold winds, morning frosts, and below-freezing temperatures has affected “this year’s” crop.
Don’t ask me how long I’ve been making this trip, have no idea. I do know I began coming here before Mr. Easterling — which is what everybody called him — picked his last peach, before the son inherited the 67 acres that has grown peaches and tomatoes for seven decades.
I’ve told you a lot of this before, but not today. And maybe some of it is new.
For one thing, down on the edge of the farm stand four lonely trees. They are Georgia Bells and the old man set them out back in 1994. Which makes them 20 years old and their gnarly limbs really don’t produce all that much anymore.
But once they looked a lot like the orchard up the hill and across the road. There, in rows standing as uniformly as an Army drill team, are 1,000 two-year-olds. They are a bright green and just about a year away from growing peaches.
“It takes three years before they bear,” says Ken. “The life after that is like 10 to 12 years.”
So why hold onto those old trees across the road?
“I still care for them because they’re something Daddy did,” is the reply. “I look at them and know what kept Daddy going. It was the people he met who became friends over years.
“You can be out somewhere in the dead of the winter and you’ll run into somebody who liked his peaches and say they always wanted a basket.”
A memory from a couple of years back brings back a question, like how much longer will you do this?
At the time, Ken sort of mumbled he just might not do this much longer. A few months later, over the telephone, he told me he had just set out a new orchard.
“Only the Good Lord knows how much longer I’ll be out here with these trees,” said Ken. “When I get up in the morning I’ve got to have something to do. I don’t want to dig on stumps or anything like that. Daddy worked these orchards until his health sent him to a nursing home.”
There is a quiet moment and:
“I loved my Daddy.”
There are more memories, but I came to check on when and what days he and wife Faye will be making the 93-mile trip to Oxford and Anniston.
“Going to be a little late this year,” he says. “We had one freeze that didn’t do much damage, but a second one a week later hurt my early crop.
“I’ve got peaches, but not enough to drive up there and back.
“Right now, unless there’s a change, I’ll be up there on June 10. That’s a Tuesday. And until we really get wound up, I’ll be coming on just Tuesday.”
As usual, he will park in Regions Bank in Oxford at 6 a.m., move to the Anniston post office at 8 ... if he hasn’t sold out.
This will be Ken’s 62nd year, the first trip back when he was just 10 and rode shotgun for his dad.
With all that said, I will tell you we walked out in the orchard by his dad’s old house and came away with three baskets.
They rode shotgun with me on the way back ...