Son of Joe Brown recalls childhood in peach orchards

10 Apr

I took a nostalgic drive to Thornberry, Texas, to retrieve my dad’s old peach orchard sign. I thought it was gone, but a neighbor said it was up, but looking worn out.

I got a surprise when I found his old license plate behind it. “DO IT UP,” it read. I’ll hang both in my shop to keep me company.

As a punk kid, I hated going out there. I only did it because he paid me $3.35 an hour. It was hard work and I was a naive teenager. I didn’t understand. Hell, I didn’t understand anything then. A typical teenager: all-knowing and invincible.

My dad inherited that acreage from his dad. I never knew the details because I barely knew my Grandad; he died when I was very young. Why my dad chose peaches is a mystery, but I watched as a newbie become very knowledgable in farming. Don Decker, a previous county agent, was my dad’s life line when he had questions.

My dad, Charlie, my older brother, and myself planted about 800 to 1,000 of the peach trees out there. At one time, he had 1,500 trees and come every June, it would be an amazing display.

I’m guessing when I was around 13 years old, he showed us how to run the trickle-line irrigation, how to prune a peach tree in the shape of a satellite dish, how to run a tractor and when to pick a peach. My brother and I also learned the hard way that you can’t eat 20 peaches in a row without repercussions. Life Lessons 101.

Despite all his efforts, in all the years he owned the 30 acres, he only had one bumper crop. The rest were ruined by late freeze, early freeze, hail, insects, lack of pruning, not picking them on time or they just didn’t produce that year due to little rainfall. It didn’t matter. That was my dad’s heaven. That was his “man-cave.”

He would sit out there in the front yard and drink his beer or scotch, have a Swisher Sweet cigar and listen to the southeast wind blow through the branches of the massive cottonwood trees that covered the small house that his dad had built. It was a refreshing reward for his work each day.

He got into the habit of throwing his beer cans in the dirt driveway to act as gravel and, trust me, there were thousands of flattened Budweiser and Schlitz cans lining the road.

He would often sleep out there on weekends, probably from lining the driveway with too many beer cans. But, hey! Why not? My mom was OK with it, we were OK with it and it kept him safe.

The mornings there were glorious! Quiet and crisp. The wood-burning stove heated the house perfectly and you could cook yourself breakfast right on top.

I’m 53 and I get it now! He couldn’t care less about the orchard making money. It wasn’t about money. It was about peace of mind and freedom. It was about having you own piece of paradise and shunning the outside world with its boring and restrictive 9-5 job. I understand now!

What I wouldn’t give to rewind the clock, crack open two cold Shlitz Malt Liquor beers, sit in a chair next to my dad, with his two favorite dogs, Tasha and Clotheline, at our feet, listen to the wind and watch the trees grow.

Michael Brown, 53, is the younger son of beloved TRN columnist and farm editor, the late Joe Brown, who retired from the paper in 2010 after 46 years. Joe Brown also had a popular early-morning show, “RFD-3,” on KFDX. He died in 2013. Michael, the owner of Michael Brown Remodeling and Repair and his wife, Kathleen, live in Wichita Falls, and have two daughters, Meika and Marisa, who live in Austin. Michael’s older brother, Charlie, 54, lives in Norman, Oklahoma, and has two sons, Eric and Jason.

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