December 06, 2013
Two lanes, hot weather, and apricots are of summer memories. One memory pulls in each year with the apricot harvest. As I migrated north from the southern California canyons of my youth, the season of memory has shifted, but not much. West coast apricots all seem to ripen sometime from mid-June to mid-July.
Two lane road names describe place. We, my younger brother, my more younger sister, and I grew up just off Placerita Canyon Road, on the western slope of Sand Canyon, with friends living along Sand Canyon Road and up Iron Canyon Road, Oak Spring Canyon Road, and Lost Canyon Road. Each a two lane road, at least until they narrowed and the asphalt gave way to gravel. I imagine they will always be two lane roads. That may not be the case. Any more, with fast pace of life and faster driving, fewer folk seem to appreciate the curving roads following canyon bottoms that call for slower driving and life pace. Just the same, I like to imagine there will always be a need for the slow pace of canyon two lanes.
Come late June-early July we would load ourselves into the old Ford station wagon and head up Sand Canyon—Mamma and daddy would have the three of us sit upright on the backseat and keep our hands off each other, it was, however, many more years before we gave serious thought to putting on a seatbelt. Some years, we would turn right onto Soledad Canyon Road, others we’d head over the next ridge and turn right onto Sierra Highway. Both were two lanes. Though Soledad Canyon twisted more, water and Live Oaks made for a cooler drive. In either case as the canyons faded in the background and the countryside heated up, Soledad hooked up with Sierra Hwy just east of the small town of Acton. Another few miles and a right onto the Pearblossom Hwy took us out to our folk’s destination, Littlerock.
The virtue of Littlerock was their orchards. I’m sure there was more, but childhood memory lies in that which matters and what mattered were the fruit stands dotting the roadside and the orchards extending beyond. We found ourselves each year in Littlerock when the apricots ripened. Mama and daddy may have had one orchard we returned to each year, I’m not sure, but I am sure we spent the remainder of the morning picking apricots. Mama and daddy in the high branches, brother and I in the lower and sister gathering whatever we dropped. I don’t imagine the three of us helped much in the early years, we ate as much as picked—it was a day when we didn’t much worry over the pesticides that might have been sprayed. By the noon hour, when all the apricots needed for that years canning were picked, we settle in the shade of the trees and ate lunch.
As the last of the sandwiches were eaten and water drank, we three kids found interesting ways to annoy one another. Mamma and daddy sat and talked. They are folk of the depression and folk who believed in the rectitude of hard work. So times when they sat quiet and talked to themselves as if they were alone are as delightful and numbered as flowers in the pasture. The quiet of apricot tree shade allowed for rest, reflection, peace, and a bit of storytelling.
Filtered sunlight haloed the station wagon between the rows of trees. Such attention to a Ford is justified in a Ford family, but more likely, the light of grace centered on what mattered most on the road in the arid west of the early 60’s—the Desert waterbag hanging in the front of the grill. Now forgotten, there was a time when few in the west traveled without some sort of waterbag hanging in front of the radiator. Come June’s heat, the next hill might be the last straw and there you are (or your neighbor) standing on the side of the road waiting on the overheated radiator to cool down—at that moment, a bag full of water is as salvetic as wine in the cup. It was then, with apricots picked and full stomachs inducing imaginations of grace-filled waterbags, mamma began the story.
It was a July day and a good portion of the morning had been driving the two lane 1950’s highway to Littlerock. By the time we arrived, talked with the farmer, and began to pick, it was already hot. David was a year and a half then and didn’t do much more than lay on a blanket under the trees. You see Darci, the work you did today picking up all those apricots was so much more than David could do then. So, don’t let you brother tease you about your work! Like today, your daddy and I finished picking and sat under trees, just like these, and had dinner just as we did today. Afterwards we got in the car and with your brother in my lap, daddy drove us home. Soon David was asleep and spent the rest of the drive sleeping on the back seat.
It was late afternoon when we finally arrived home. We unloaded the apricots and David from the car. Then (being the depression era children they are) began cutting up apricots. We had apricots on the counter, in bowls, and cooking on the stove. We then began filling jars and water bathing them. Before we knew it we had apricots everywhere! Jars were scattered across the counter, apricot syrup dripping down pots, splattered across the counter, dripped on the floor, and, and there was no air-conditioning like we have now, so we were hot, sweaty, at the edge of our patience, and then it happened! Donald decided it was time to join us in this world.
Off went the stove. We left everything right where it stood. Daddy gathered up David, we got in the car and headed to the hospital. Late that night David had a brother. I stayed at the hospital that night. Your daddy came home. He came home, put David to bed and went back to the apricots. By the time I came home the next day there was not an apricot, a jar, or a drop of splattered syrup to be seen. I don’t know how he did it!
Daddy stayed quiet through the telling. He never brought much attention to himself. Far back as I remember, he did what he did and you noticed or not. That was the thing about the two of them, they were their own sort of two lane road—one road, two ways of going about life.
The story always excited us kids. We’d eagerly go about packing for the return trip and beg to help put up apricots when we got home. Hours later, after a drive which had us kids asleep by the time we wound our way up the last canyon, and after slicing and pitting hundreds of apricots, you can well imagine, we were no longer quite so excited about this chore. And, more often than not, mamma and daddy were alone in the kitchen by the time the last apricot was canned.
Our own kids have traveled two lane roads, and picked, sliced, cooked, and canned apricots. They are not always home with us any longer. But on cold Sunday mornings, with frigid weather but a windowpane away, and apricots on top of pancakes; mamma and daddy, us, and our kids sit at the table of memory and travel the two lane road.
© David B. Bell 2013