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  • February 17, 2014

    The purpose of art is to help us better to enjoy our lives, or better to endure them.

    — Samuel Johnson

    ARTISTICALLY SPEAKING, I’m emerging – slowly – from a long winter funk. But I took a swig of fresh-pressed apple cider this afternoon, and it helped me to stop brooding for a moment and to recall some happy moments of boyhood.

    Our family lived as rent-paying tenants on a gentleman’s farm outside Philadelphia, along the wealth-soaked right-of-way of the Pennsylvania Railroad, known colloquially as the Main Line. Our landlord was some kind of a tycoon, now retired, who seemed to spend his days sitting in an easy chair in his sun-porch reading the newspaper.

    About the only crops produced on this gentleman’s farm at this point in its history were apples. Red Delicious, I believe. Being budding entrepreneurs, but lacking sophistication in the natural order of things, my brothers and I used to pick apples from our landlord’s orchard and try to sell them to passing motorists at the end of the long driveway.

    One day, the landlord paused in his chauffeured limousine at our little apple stand. He was very nice to us. “So,” he asked, “where did you boys get these lovely apples you’re selling?”

    Being Cub Scouts at the time, we answered honestly and in detail.

    That evening, my dad got a phone call from the landlord. I don’t know about the substance of that call, but our little fruit-vending enterprise came to a screeching halt from that day forward. We had a little talk about the meaning of private property.

    Anyway, about the swig of cider that prompted this little outburst...

    On a particular Sunday afternoon every October on our little semi-rustic gentleman’s farm outside Philadelphia, the gardener/caretaker pulled out an old-fashioned (I have no idea how old-fashioned) cider press from behind the John Deere tractor in the barn. His children and some colorful immigrant Irish farmhands brought bushels of apples from the orchard, and poured them into the press, and then the magic began.

    As the press was screwed down on the apples, the most amazing juice ran from the press, down the wooden chute, and into waiting gallon jugs. This went on for a good couple of hours, and in the end there were several dozen jugs of a rich, brownish liquid that, upon tasting, exploded into such mouth-watering delight that I never willingly drank store-bottled “apple juice” afterward.

    At the end of the session my two brothers and I each received a gallon of cider, with strict instructions to take it home and give it to our parents – a gesture of typical largesse from our landlord.

    Believe me, we never even thought about selling this stuff on the roadside. There was no price that could buy it.
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