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 September, 2007


 The Good Old Days of Climbing Trees in Uniontown

Whatever Happened to Apple Trees?

By Al Owens
To me, the only thing sweeter than a good apple is climbing a good apple tree to get it. (As long as its somebody elses apple tree) Which is, in itself, something of a paradox because when I was ten years-old all of the trees I climbed failed produce sweet apples.

Apple patience didnt exist when I was a kid. Come to think of it, I just made up that phrase! All Im trying to say is that as soon as the apple trees in our neighborhood sprouted something no larger than a jack ball squads of apple bandits sprung into action.

We would invade every available tree limb to fill brown paper bags full of apples. Some kids were better than others at climbing. Others provided an assist on the ground as lookouts and apple catchers. I knew guys so gifted at climbing apple trees, I felt disappointed that theyd end up choosing a profession other than trapeze artist.

Once I got the hang of it, I found myself so high up in some trees I could see backyard apple trees for miles around. What a glorious sight!

The mission was always the same. Get the apples and avoid the old man who owned the tree at all costs. (I always found it rather curious that only old men seemed to own scalable apple trees back then!)

Once wed conquered a tree it was time to head to one of our houses, steal a salt shaker from the kitchen table and commence our mid-summer apple feast.

The salt came in handy, because a bite out of an unripe (and thats an understatement) apple was so sour it could make any kids mouth look like it had just been slapped with a tennis racket. The salt cut the sour. Nothing cut the salt.

There would always be enough apples left to either dole them out to the innocent kids who knew nothing about our apple tree activities. After that, you could always face the wrath of your mother whod chastise you for stealing that old mans apples on Wednesday but produce the most perfect, from-the-ground-up apple pie on Thursday!

That was the life! But the apple glut had a price. There were some times Id eat so many of them, I could run faster than Bobby Turpin trying to get to the bathroom. (If you lived in Uniontown in the early 1960s, you knew nobody could really outrun Bobby Turpin. Perhaps, in his day, his father Cornelius just may have beaten him head-to-head)

Once wed gotten our fill of apples, wed still have enough summer left to climb cherry trees. It was the same drill. Some of us would quietly climb, while others acted in support.

Bags of cherries, by mid-summer were always more fun to gather than their green apple cousins. And besides, you could also spit the seeds at the little kids who used to try to bum them from you.

To this day, I can eat a pound of cherries at one sitting. Although, I still have the same physical reaction. Someday theyll have to rush me to the hospital, where some young internist will pronounce my stomach dead.

In those days, it seems, just about everybody tried to grow something called a grape arbor. Entire backyards could be converted into one canopy of large grape leaves and bunches of grapes. You could actually run through them, and gather fruit at the same time.

Unlike the old men who treasured their apples, peaches and cherries I think those people who got carried away with their massive arbors may have begged kids to come and steal their grapes.

And, of course, we obliged.

I can remember launching nighttime assaults on backyard gardens. Wed fill our bags with tomatoes and fresh vegetables that our parents couldnt force us to eat if they came from the Thorofare. A little salt and a tomato may have been healthy Id just like to think of it as fun!

There were even times when fruit would fall from trees and we could find other things to do with it. (Remember, in those days nobody had invented computers and joy sticks. Kids had imaginations, back then.)

I remember one memorable Saturday afternoon. I encountered my best friend Leon Jones older brother Jumbo, down near their house on Hickle Street.

Hed found lots of crab apples under a nearby tree. Hed somehow figured out that if you stuck one of those crab apples on the end of a long, thin tree branch you could wind up and hoist a crab apple into orbit. Id never seen anything like it.

I tried it and got the same results. Im no aeronautical expert, but Im thinking that the tree branch served as an extension of your arm. So, a kid who was no taller than four feet, would suddenly have the lift of a 7 footer.

We stood there flnging cab apples skyward at least as far as a Tiger Woods T-shot.

Im not making this up, but the following day in the Moscow Morning Herald, there was a report that Nikita Khrushchev was nearly hit in the head with a crab apple. I think that was mine! OK! That was a stretch. It really landed near his right foot.