From the Relief Society Magazine, August 1932 –
Apple Bark Tea
By Ruth Rowland
“Here’s your lunch, Briant. I do wish the farm was closer so you could come home and have a hot meal at noon. I had to give you salt-rising bread today, but I’m going over to Aunt Jane’s and get a start of yeast so I can bake this afternoon. Emma Lou will have to stay here while I go. I’m keeping her out of school one more day. I don’t want anyone to say we helped spread the measles,”said Nancy earnestly.
Her husband smiled. “It’s good to see the child well again. She was mighty sick. How the little tike has grown. We were measuring last night and she comes up to my vest pocket.”
“Yes, she’s big for her age, and to think what a dot of a baby she was when mother died, and you said she could come and live with us. How wonderful you’ve been, a regular father to her!” Nancy laid her hand affectionately on his rough coat sleeve.
He placed his large hand over her tiny one. “And what about you as a mother? She thinks there is no one in the world like her ‘Nana’.”
She lingered at the kitchen door as he walked across the porch. There he paused and looked at the blossom-laden apple tree at the corner of the house. As he looked he took off his hat and a radiance of the beauty he gazed on lighted his face. He motioned for Nancy to come to his side, and slipped his arm about her. “That beautiful apple tree just seems part of home to me. I’ll have to count it along with you and Emma Lou as my very special treasures.”With a smile and a kiss he was gone.
Nancy hurried into the house and opened the door at the foot of the stairs, “Emma Lou, Emma Lou,” she called. “What’s the matter? Why don’t you come down? Remember you’re well now, no more late mornings in bed. Hurry up, I want to curl your hair before I go over to Aunt Jane’s.”
“All right. I’ll be there in a minute. I’m all dressed but buttoning my shoes. Where’s the button hook?”
“Look under the bowl on the wash-stand, and do be careful. I hate to sew on shoe buttons.”
Nancy swept the rag rug, and wiped off the stove, before Emma Lou appeared. She stepped outside the door, took the tin wash-basin from its place on the wash-bench, half filled it with water, and then sat patiently with comb and brush in hand.
“Now let’s hurry and get your hair done. I’m glad it’s naturally curly.”
“So am I, for I’d hate to have it done up on rags like Mary’s. Too hard to sleep on bumps.:
“You’ll get a bump if you don’t hold still,”said Nancy as she smoothed a lock of hair around her finger with the dampened brush. At last the ringlets were in place.
“Now sit on this chair and hold your head still for five minutes, then your hair’ll be dry. Look after the house and don’t get in any mischief while I’m away.” She took a tin pail from the cupboard, threw a shawl over her shoulders, and went down the garden path cross lots to Aunt Jane’s.
Five minutes was a long time to sit still. Emma Lou looked at the clock on its high wall shelf and for one long minute watched the pendulum swing back and forth. Then her eyes wandered around the room. She wondered how they made all the holes in the tin panel doors of the food cupboard – stars and circles with flowers in the center. She started to count the holes but soon lost track. Just as the five minutes were up there was a knock at the door and she ran to see who was there. It was Mrs. Neeley who lived down the block.
“Where’s your Aunt Nancy?” she asked.
“She’s gone over to Aunt Jane’s to get some yeast.”
“My, I’m sorry. I can’t wait. Stella is very sick, and Grandma Smith said if I would make some tea with apple bark, it’d do her good. I felt sure I could get some from your Aunt Nancy.”
“Oh, I can get you some bark. Just wait ’till I get the butcher knife.”As Emma Lou came out of the door with the knife, she looked down the long path to the apple orchard, then over at the tree at the end of the house. “I’ll get you some of this bark,” she said.
The knife was sharp. The bark peeled off easily and soon Mrs. Neeley had a generous supply. With hurried thanks she disappeared.
“My, won’t Nana be glad I was home,” thought Emma Lou as she ran down the path and excitedly told her of what she had done.
“What tree did you get the bark from?”
Something in Nana’s voice warned Emma Lou that all was not right.
“Why – why, the tree by the porch,” she answered slowly.
“Not Uncle Briant’s favorite tree?” Without waiting for an answer Nana hurried to the apple tree. Sorrowfully she viewed the damage. There it stood, wounded perhaps to the point of death. As she walked toward the kitchen door she turned angrily on Emma Lou. “You’re a naughty girl. The minute Briant comes home you must bring him out here and show him just what you have done.” Then she disappeared through the doorway.
Like a blow the words had struck the child. She had expected praise for a good deed and now she realized that she had done something to hurt Uncle Briant. And she must tell him about it. What would he say? She could never remember his having scolded her, and now Nana seemed sure he would.
Quietly she sat down on the porch step in a strange world of sadness. After a while Nana came to the door. “Take this basket and see if you can find some eggs.”
Emma Lou went down to the barn and looked in the manger where the brown hen had her nest, but there were no eggs. She went over by the hay stack. There sat a white hen on her nest. Emma Lou scared her away and took three of the four eggs, leaving one for the nest egg. She lingered on the far side of the hay stack, for from there she could not see the apple tree.
“Emma Lou, Emma Lou, what’s the matter? Don’t you know I’m waiting for those eggs.”
She went back up the path turning her head aside so as not to see the apple tree, but it was no use. She seemed to see it whether she looked at it or not.
In the afternoon Mary came over. They went out on the front porch and played house with their rag dolls. The trouble of the morning was forgotten.
Mary said, “Let’s play my little girl is sick. You be the doctor and tell me what to do for her.”
The doll was tucked in its bed, and Emma Lou knocked on the porch post. Answering the knock, Mary said, “How do you do, Dr. Brown? Come in and see my little girl. She is dreadfully sick. What had I better give her?”
Apple bark tea, apple bark tea. That was all Emma Lou could think of, so she answered, “This is no fun, let’s play something else.”
Mary thought a minute then said, “I’ll tell you what let’s do. Let’s go round to the swing and see if we can work up ‘til we touch the apple blossoms.” Emma Lou shook her head.
“Oh, you make me tired. What’s the matter with you? You won’t do anything. I’m going home.” She reached for her doll, hurried up the path and slammed the front gate.
The long day was almost gone. Emma Lou had been knitting her daily twenty rounds on a wool stocking.
“Twenty times round seems a lot, Nana, but it doesn’t make the stocking much longer.”
“Put it away, dear, and set the table for supper, while I go to the well for some fresh water.”
Emma Lou went to the cupboard drawer, got out a red and white checkered tablecloth, and after some difficulty spread it on the table. Then in the center she placed the silver caster that looked so grand with its tall bottles for pepper, salt, vinegar and mustard. Smiling she gave the caster wheel a push and the bottles went gaily sailing round and round.
Just then Uncle Briant came through the door. At sight of him the smile faded, and she turned her head away.
“Well, how’s my best girl tonight?” He carressingly put his fingers under her chin, lifting her face towards his. The deep trouble in those upturned eyes startled him.
Just then Nana returned, and he asked, “What’s the matter with the child?”
“Come and she’ll show you.”
Uncle Briant took Emma Lou’s hand and Nana led the way to the apple tree. They stopped and viewed the damage. Nana broke what seemed a long silence. “Tell your uncle how it happened.”
Emma Lou tried to speak. The words just wouldn’t come.
“Nana, what is the child trying to tell me?”
“She’s trying to tell you what happened while I was away. I told her she must tell you. When I remembered this morning and the look on your face when you said this apple tree was one of your treasures I just couldn’t stand to think it might die.”
He glanced down at Emma Lou, and now the words fairly tumbled out. “I did the best I knew how, Uncle Briant. Mrs. Neeley said Stella was awful sick and she wanted some apple bark to make her better. I didn’t mean to hurt the tree. Honest I didn’t. I just wanted to help. The tree won’t die, will it?” She looked appealingly up into his eyes. The tender understanding she saw there dispelled the shadows that had made the day so dark. Slowly he answered her question. “If the apple tree dies, we’ll plant a new one to take its place. It’s not so hard to find a new apple tree, but even Nana couldn’t tell me anyone to take the place of our little girl who did the best she knew how.”
And even the apple tree seemed to understand, for it sent a shower of perfumed petals on the upturned face of the smiling child.