Thursday, September 8, 2011

Henry and The Hard Cider

Henry Treadway owned a summer house just down the road from our farm. It had a hand painted sign above the front door that read  "The Doneroman Ranch."  

Henry was the superintendent of an apartment building in The Bronx. As a kid, I wasn't exactly sure where The Bronx was but I was certain they didn't work very hard there because Henry was the fattest man I'd ever seen. He was short, had thick wet lips and tooth pick thin legs. When he went for a bath in the cow-pond, he would float on his back and his belly would stick up so far out of the water that turtles could have climbed atop it to sun themselves. Once he got a wood tick on his back. It swelled so big under a roll of fat that by the time Henry felt the lump he was sure it was cancer.  

Henry drove a Chevy Impala, a big eight cylinder gas hog.  He pushed the bench seat back as far as it would go but still couldn't fit in behind the steering wheel.   So he had the factory installed wheel replaced with a customized model half the diameter. Only problem, then his legs couldn't reach the gas peddle.  Henry's solution was to shim out the foot pads of the accelerator and brake with laminated 2x4 blocks. It was an odd sight indeed, a chaufferless Impala with what looked to be a fat faced passenger in the back seat.   

Henry loved to drink.  So did Walter Pavelski.  Walt was a retired dairy farmer. Every fall, with wormy apples plucked from the tree behind his house, he made hard cider.  Walter lived off Social Security and the farm mortgage payments he'd received from his son, so the high octane juice came in handy when beer money was short.

One cool fall day, Henry pulled on his Triple X nylon wind breaker, squeezed into his aqua-blue sedan and drove to Walt's for a visit.  Seated beside the kitchen's wood-fired cook stove, Walter and Henry started swapping stories, smoking short stinky cigars and sampling the season's over ripe cider.  Walt had farmer's asthma and a pretty good limp as the result of being gored by a bull a couple decades earlier.  When he rose from his cracked vinyl recliner, you knew it was a matter of some importance and it usually required a quick huff of his bronchial inhaler to set him in motion.  A trip to the cellar was no small under taking.  The steps were poorly illuminated and treacherously steep and the dirt floor uneven and damp.  But that was the place the ceramic jugs of cider cured and where Walt unsteadily ventured more than once that late November afternoon.      
Fact is, apples have many medicinal properties, the most common being their efficacy  as a diarrhetic.  Of course, moderation in such applications is key and overindulgence by a three hundred pound man confined to bib overalls is not wise.  Apparently, after saying good-bye to Walter, Henry set out happily toward home, but midway to the Doneroman spread he was overcome by unrelenting gas cramps. Either too inebriated or too delirious with pain, Henry failed to pull over in time and instead let go a roaring torrent in his pants.  Back at the ranch, it was all he could do to drag himself from the car, navigate the stone walk and make his way to the pantry where he sluggishly disrobed and submerged the putrid garments in a ringer washer full of cold sudsy water.

Henry failed to light a fire in the wood stove that night, and instead stumbled to the couch where he collapsed.  There he endured intermittent waves of nausea and debilitating intestinal seizures until he finally drifted off into a fitful sleep. The wind rose a little after two that morning and a Nor-easter boar down on Henry's home with a clear-headed Christian vengeance. It froze every pipe in the ancient farm house and turned Henry's soiled overalls and skivvies into a mastodon encased in ice.  Were it not for his natural layer of meaty insulation and the incredibly high blood alcohol level in his veins, Henry might well have become an ice sculpture himself, but that evening he had been visited by merciful God.

In the morning, Henry awoke with a throbbing head and blue toes.  He wrapped himself in the wool blanket that had sheltered him through the night and abandoned the house, trudging some seventy five feet through drifting snow to the marooned Impala.  There, with engine idling and heater blasting, he waited.  The township plow eventually came by and with a log chain attached to the auto's frame, the driver dragged him free of the mounting snow.  Slipping and sliding on spinning wheels, Henry's low slung Chevy disappeared over the mountain and was not seen again for many months.    

Spring comes late to the hills of eastern Pennsylvania, but it arrives with a burning fuse and almost instantly explodes into hot, hazy summer. Anything not willfully sprouting is soon victimized by microbes or gluttonous cultures of fungus and mold.  Henry's forgotten under-garments were no exception.  By the time a plumber was sent out to the Doneroman Ranch, the wash-tub holding Henry's filthy clothes had become the equivalent of a manure filled slurry pit.  The diarrhetic apple mash, airborne spores and stained cotton fabrics had congealed into a unsavory mix of lethal hydrogen sulfide and sewage gas.  The plumber, who had no choice but to climb under the tub to effect repairs, had to be dragged out by his feet when his son discovered him delirious from the fumes.  In the end, there was no choice but to cut the old washer free of its half inch copper moorings and lug it outside, where a half gallon of kerosene and a match transformed Henry's fermented evening into the equivalent of flaring gas well.  

The drive north to the Appalachians eventually became too much for Henry Treadway. He sold the Doneroman Ranch to Walt's son Joe and it became part of the family's dairy operation.  Its been more than forty years since Henry left, but the property is still referred to as "Treadways."  (The name "Doneroman Ranch" just never caught on.)  

As for Walter, he passed away as well, but the story of "Henry and The Hard Cider"  lives on, retold enough times for the moral to sink in:  

"Drink too much applejack and it'll clean you out better than a scrub brush tied to  a plumber's snake." 

(the end) 

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