Several years ago (2009); I attended the historical drama, “Under the Apple Trees”, written by historian playwright, Jariel O’Neil (who writes under the pseudonym of “Duay O’Neil.” (Don’t blame me, Duay; Iliff McMahan; descendant of the infamous Wils McMahan started it).
Anyway, it was my pleasure to watch and work the lights and sound in several rehearsals and five actual performances of this fascinating piece of Cocke County lore; and I came away with a different emphasis each night; i.e., the families, the interconnection of all those genealogical lines, the war, the children, the hard times, the very complicated but simple life styles, the survivalism, the music, the clothing, the entrepreneurism, the love – just to name a few – but all were interwoven with the strong leadership of mom and dad.
I don’t think it was a major talking point in the writing room of the O’Neil home place; I just think it happened because that was the way it was. The leadership of moms and dads was present because it simply could not be avoided.
I caught myself reminiscing about some old times we spent at the Birmingham home of my grandmother “Muh” and the man we all just called, “Grandfather.” No nicknames, no pet names – just “grandfather.” He was a coal mine inspector in Birmingham, Alabama and walked with a limp because of an accident long ago. He loved peaches and watermelon; had the scratchiest beard; and loved to take his bottom teeth out to scare us little guys.
“Muh” was a walking history book; and loved to talk about the family lines all the way back to the dinosaurs; including a family branch that included the Revolutionary war hero: “The Swamp Fox, Francis Marion” (which I have never been able to verify). Her dad was a circuit-riding Methodist preacher; and I was given his books when Muh died several years ago.
I have said all that to say this!
That historical drama, “Under the Apple Trees” was unmistakable in its presentation – mom and dad were always surrounded by the children; and mom and dad were always in the lead – an intertwined matched pair – to give leadership to all those “youngins.”
That fact came through each and every time. Times were hard under the apple trees, but mom and dad pulled together and made it happen. The war came and dads, sons, husbands, and brothers left; but mom hung in there. Brutality, sickness, and hard weather all came and maybe took the male side of the family equation away; but mom hung in there.
I especially loved the family scenes when mom and dad (and generations up from them) all gathered around the front porch with “youngins” (and generations down from them). For reasons of time and space, the many scenes around those big tables piled high with possum stew could not be told; but they were, no doubt, a very important part of family life too.
The scene when “papa” dressed up like “Injun Joe” and called out the kids who had been “unruly” to “shoot the fear” into them was especially enjoyable. “Children must be taught to obey their parents”, Mike Moore’s character, “Injun Joe” repeated over and over. You could just imagine the twins, Kyle and Carl, cringing back behind mama’s skirts as “Injun Joe” repeated those lines over and over – as well as the penalties for not “obeying their parents” – “I’ve come fer ‘em.”
I well related to the line that Tiffany Dover’s character, Delsie said: “Mama made me go out to the orchard and get a switch for her to use on me”. Me too! That hedge row between the Fifth Street Mooty home and that of Sockie Templin made great switches (from Josephine Celeste’s point of view), especially the little ones (from my point of view).
Now, wait a minute! I am not talking about beating your kids! Good grief, gimme a break! No where could that be construed by anything other then the worst of beasts; and – I’m sorry to have to say this – but some parents are not worthy of respect; some parents don’t lead their kids in the right way (they don’t even know what that means); some parents are not worthy of the name “parent” – and that’s when somebody in authority has to step in.
Sorry about that caveat in that last paragraph; but today being what it is, it had to be said. I recently heard about a reality television show that reveals how to “beat the system” and “live off the gumment’.” Man, that is good training those parents are giving their kids!
Anyway, I am thankful to the cast and crew of “Under the Apple Trees” for portraying the past so artfully. It really took me back – especially when I found out that I had taught the real “Ann” (played by her actual daughter, Brianne in the Sugarlands Office scene) as a kid in Vacation Bible School “way back when” (and I’ll never tell how far back) out beside the creek at the Liberty Church!
Tom Mooty serves as “Very Senior Pastor” to Newport’s West End Baptist Church; and writes this column for the Newport Plain Talk’s Thursdays and Weekends Editions. Address all comments to Mooty at P.O. Box 851 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org; and especially to The Editor of the Newport Plain Talk.