Merry Mix-up and the Cherry Tree on Clark’s Hill

[Author’s Note:  Fresh cherries on sale at our neighborhood grocery brought back a memory of childhood  nicknames, a neighborhood cherry tree in Stamford, Connecticut, and my Norwegian grandmother, Marie Theresa Fladvad Cottrell.  A Black cherry tree, (prunus serotina) was the focus of intense childhood attention that summer day.  Little Merry Mix-Up]

-Anonymous Poem-
The Secret
We have a secret, just we three,
The robin, and I, and the sweet cherry-Tree;
The bird told the tree, and the tree Told me,
And nobody knows it but just us three.

But of course the robin knows it best,
Because he built the ____I shan’t tell the Rest;
And laid the four little – somethings in It;
I’m afraid I shall tell it every minute.

But if the tree and the robin don’t Peep;
I’ll try my best the secret to keep;
Though I know when the little birds Fly about,
Then the whole secret will be out. (Unknown)

Summer 1944…

A bunch of Clark’s Hill kids, all between the ages of ages of six and eight, play beneath a cherry tree growing beside the garage at the Shaw mansion near the top of the street. The cherry tree, covered with ripe cherries, is eyed greedily by the kids looking up at branches too high, and too far out of reach for small hands.

The cherries are temptingly ripe and ready to be picked, but how will the Clark’s Hill kids get to taste the delicious fruit?

Merry Mix-Up is lucky because the Shaw mansion with its beautiful cherry tree is right across the street from her house.  Jerry Berry lives next door to her, so he is lucky, too.  Betty Canary shares the good luck too, because she lives only three doors down the street. Anna Banana, who lives in the corner house at the top of the hill, feels lucky, too.  Billy-Willy and Rosie Posey live way down at the bottom of the hill, but they can run fast and be up the hill in minutes, so that makes them somewhat lucky, as well.

The Clark’s Hill kids know that Patty Cake is luckiest of all because she lives in a ground floor apartment in the Shaw mansion.

“I can see the cherry tree from my bedroom window,” she says.

“The cherry tree is loaded with ripe cherries,” says Betty Canary.

“Let’s pick cherries, all of them,” says Patty Cake. “ The cherries are ripe.”

Playing comes to a stop.

Jerry Berry says, “If we don’t pick the cherries, they’ll rot.”

Patty Cake says, “Right. The cherries will rot and fall on the ground.”

“Who wants to climb up there?” asks Billy-Willy.

Anna Banana says, “Not me. It’s too high.”

Rosie Posey agrees. “It is way too high.”

“I am too small to climb the tree,” Jerry Berry says staring up at the limbs.

“There’s no way little kids like us can climb the tree,” says Betty Canary.

Patty Cake’s daddy, home from work as a fireman, walks down the dirt driveway, and tells the kids, “Go home right now and get brown paper bags. Cherry picking begins in ten minutes. Your paper bag will be filled with ripe cherries.”

Merry Mix-Up hurries home and grabs a brown paper bag from the back porch, joins her friends, who now all have brown paper bags, ready to scramble up the sidewalks and back to the cherry tree.

“Who is first?” asks Jerry Berry.

“Who will get the most cherries?” asks Anna Banana.

“Just wait,” says Patty Cake.

Patty Cake’s daddy hauls a wooden rung ladder out of the garage and props it against the trunk of the cherry tree.

“My brown paper bag will be stuffed with hundreds of sweet red cherries, says Merry Mix-Up.

“Maybe there will be thousands of cherries in my paper bag,” says Jerry Berry hopefully.

Merry Mix-Up and her friends watch Patty Cake’s daddy climb carefully up into the tree branches, all bending with ripe cherries, but without a bag.

“Daddy is just testing the ladder,” says Patty Cake. “We have to wait.”

So, they wait.

“I want to eat sweet cherries, says Anna Banana. “I guess I won’t eat all of them. Some are for Mama.”

“My mother will love getting a big bag full of cherries,” Billy-Willy says.

“Waiting is too hard to do,” Rosie Posey says.

They stand at the base of the tree and wait while Patty Cake’s daddy, somewhere up in the branches, begins to pick cherries.

“How long will it take to load our paper bags?” asks Merry Mix-Up who can hardly wait for her paper bag to be filled to the top with cherries by Patty Cake’s daddy.

Then a few cherries began to rain down on the little heads that were turned to look up at Patty Cake’s daddy.

Merry Mix-Up giggled. “A cherry hit me on my head.”  The cherry bounced to the ground.

“Hand me a bag, just one,” says Patty Cake’s daddy.

Cherry picking continued as Patty Cake’s daddy reached down for one bag at a time. Rosie

Posey handed her bag to Patty’s daddy, and was the first to have her bag filled with cherries. Billy-Willy was next in line, then Betty Canary.

At last, Merry Mix-Up’s bag was next and she tried waiting patiently by jumping up and down and squealing until her bag was full and Patty Cake’s daddy handed it down to her.

There were enough cherries for all of the Clark’s Hill kids.

Patty Cake’s bag was the last to be filled. The Clark’s Hill kids watched as Patty Cake’s daddy climbed down the ladder.

“Thank you, Patty Cake’s daddy!” says Billy-Willy.

“Thanks,” says Betty Canary, Jerry Berry, Rosie Posey and Merry Mix-Up.

Merry Mix-Up started up the driveway will her bag full of cherries. Half way up the driveway, she reached into her bag and pulled out one cherry, just for a taste. She stuck the cherry in her mouth and pulled off the stem. She chewed carefully because she knew there was a pit in the middle of the cherry. She chewed around it and spit out the pit.

The cherry didn’t taste the way she thought it should.

Merry Mix-Up knew what cherries were supposed to taste like: she had eaten chocolate covered cherries at Christmas and this cherry didn’t taste anything like them. This cherry was sour. She tried a second cherry and it didn’t taste any better than the first cherry. She chewed for a second or two and spit out all of it.

Sour! Too sour!  Merry Mix-Up crumpled the top of her bag to close it and ran home.

In the kitchen, Merry Mix-Up showed the bag of cherries to Granny. “The cherries are no good,” she says. “They are sour. We have to throw them away.”

“Give me them to me,” Granny says, reaching for the brown paper bag. “You will like the cherries when I’m done with them,” she adds mysteriously.

Later that afternoon, Granny calls, “Merry Mix-Up, come to the breakfast room and taste the cherries again. I think you will like them.”

Merry Mix-Up didn’t want to taste the cherries. She remembered how sour they tasted. But there they were, sitting in her cereal bowl. The cherries looked different. Even worse, they looked mushy. But it wouldn’t be polite not to at least taste the cherries.

“Pick up your spoon and take a taste,” urges Granny.

Merry Mix-Up picked up her spoon slowly and dipped it into her cereal bowl at the breakfast room table, even though it wasn’t time for breakfast.

Granny says, “I cooked the cherries for you. I took out all of the pits, too.”

“The cherries taste delicious,” says Merry Mix-Up. “Why do the cherries taste so good now?”

Granny had made the once sour cherries into Merry Mix-Up’s favorite summertime dessert.

Here is Granny’s recipe for cherries picked by Patty Cake’s daddy from the Shaw mansion cherry tree:

First, Granny rinsed the cherries in cold water and removed the pits and the stems.

Then she cooked the cherries in syrup made of sugar and water.

Merry Mix-Up’s pound and a half of cherries were brought to a boil in syrup made of ¾ cup sugar dissolved or melted in ½ cup water, then poured over the cherries.

Granny simmered the cherries in the syrup until the cherries were tender.

The cherries were set to cool and then put in the ice box to cool even more.

© Faith R. Connors 2015 All Rights Reserved

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