Most of the time, Mom canned our Elberta peaches in halves, but sometimes they were quartered, when they were too big. We had 12 peach trees down at Cove and Dad took care of them assiduously, carefully pruning them in late winter. Mr. Mann came down on his tractor to spray the trees for insects in the spring. The spray had an awful smell and we were warned to stay on the windward side and not to breathe it as it was probably DD-T.
After the spraying, Dad mixed lime and water in a five gallon bucket, until it was thick like paint. It was called “whitewash” and he had Mike and I whitewash the trunks of all the peach trees to stop critters from climbing up from the grass. Mike got some whitewash on his hands and went to rub his eye. He screamed “bloody murder” and ran to the house where Mom called the doctor who told her to just wash the lime out of Mike’s eye with cold water and soon Mike quit screaming. The burning had gone away.
After that, Dad had us combing the peach-tree branches, looking for the telltale egg rings of the tent caterpillar which we dutifully peeled off and disposed of. To find all the eggs was impossible and as summer came on, the caterpillars built their tents high in the branches of the peach trees and proceeded to eat all the leaves within reach.
Then came the fun part as Dad had us cut twelve foot sticks and wire old rags to the top which was then soaked in kerosene and lit up. Black smoke and fire poured off the torches as we headed into the orchard in search of our prey. The caterpillar tents were highly flammable and went “whoosh” as they ignited into flame and the furry caterpillars fell from the burning tent, igniting with a “shizzz”. Sometimes they hung on their spider-like threads until the tent was no more.
When the “curly leaf” came on, us kids were sent into the orchard to pull the grotesquely thickened leaves off the branches before the fruit had developed and dispose of them far from the orchard. Curly leaf disease could kill a tree, if it wasn’t taken care of.
In late summer, the peaches would be coming ripe and us kids would hunt for the juicy windfalls and fight the yellow jackets off to partake of the sweet flesh of the Elberta peach. We weren’t allowed to take any peaches from the trees as they were being saved for canning and giving away. Kit Bradley and brother Mike and I would lie on our backs in the orchard, splitting clouds with our “thoughts”; having the power to do so, while we swelled our stomachs with ripe peaches, listening to the crunch of peach pits as old Boots, the Springer spaniel, found the windfalls, we hadn’t. “I did it, I did it,” Kit yelled. “Right above us; the cloud that’s coming apart.”
Little kids weren’t allowed to pick the ripe peaches, because it took a very delicate touch to pull the peach from the branch and not bruise it. Sister Molly helped Mom peel and slice the peaches for canning. Mom used a water bath to bring the jars to boil until it was safe to remove them and tighten down the Ball lids to seal the peaches in, for the delight they promised for winter.
“Mom, the peaches are making noises,” Molly called from the kitchen. The “tops” were popping and Mom replied, “They are only telling us they are happy, because the jars sealed”. A couple of hours later, Mom could be seen tapping the jars with her index finger and listening for a “ping” or a “thud,” telling her if the jars had sealed or not.