Underwear Days

Apple rights

There are Remembering Days when we remember stories about family lives for the benefit of our descendants. There are Researching Days when we hunt for clues to our ancestors’ lives and their stories. And there are Underwear Days, when Remembering and Researching get tangled up in a pile on the floor, just like those mornings when you can’t get your feet out of your underwear, lose your balance, and fall over (especially when some jokester flings open the bedroom door and yells “freeze, sucker!!”). Underwear Days.

It was a Remembering Day when I thought of one of the stories carried on in my family.  Supposedly my great-great-great-great-grandfather George Read III reserved in a deed his right “to sit under his favorite apple tree” for the duration of his life. It was a Research Day when I began looking for the old deeds of both family properties to verify that family apple tree story.

Apples have become such a part not only of our nutrition but also of our lexicon, music, and idioms that we seldom notice them. But last spring, once the winter’s mental fog lifted, I noticed that there are many very old apple trees on my family property, more than I had been aware of. Their white blossoms stood out against the bare limbs of other trees or the newly-green spring leaves. Until the early 1950s there was an old apple tree on Our Old House’s front lawn, and until we put in a new septic system there was a really old one outside my kitchen window, thoroughly rotted but a favorite of both squirrels and birds. My ancestors’ property next door had an orchard (it still stands for all its advanced age) from which we enjoyed huge Wolf River apples, Galas, Astrachans, Winter Ganos, and others eaten in hand, in pies, or pressed into cider. Some of the old trees in my “back 40” certainly look two hundred years old, but none invite “sitting.”

Apples have become such a part not only of our nutrition but also of our lexicon, music, and idioms that we seldom notice them.

I soon realized the importance apple orchards or individual apple trees held for my family as they became noted in the deed exclusions or in stated rights of way. Perhaps it was George Read Cony (1825-94) who had a favorite tree when he reserved the right of passage to that old orchard next door.

Before his death, George Read III deeded his homestead property to his daughter Experience Read Cony, reserving his right to stay in his home until his death. Was this perhaps where “the apple tree story” originated? No mention is made of apple trees in the deed, but he did “warrant and forever defend the premises to her the said Experience Cony . . . against the lawful claims and demands of all persons claiming by through or under me.”

A check of George’s probate records included a petition for guardianship filed by his son Luther alleging incompetency (perhaps because Luther didn’t get the homestead property?). That became a nice tangle by itself (George prevailed).

I began to think that maybe George wasn’t the main character of the apple tree story. Was it George III (my great-great-great-great-grandfather)? Or maybe George Jr. (his father), claiming his rights at his property in Sidney, Maine? Maybe George III’s son-in-law John Cony made that reservation. Another tangle, and I began to feel a bit unsteady: maybe the story was just a family comment that evolved into legend involving too many apple lovers named George.

While I have some new insight into how ingrained apples were in my ancestors’ everyday lives, no amount of research so far has given any substance to the “sit under my apple tree” story. I toppled over at that point. Gotta love those Underwear Days.

About Jan Doerr

Jan Doerr received a B.A. degree in Sociology/Secondary Education from the University of New Hampshire, and spent a long career in the legal profession while researching her family history. She has recently written and published articles for WBUR.org’s Cognoscenti blog: “Labor of Love: Preserving a 226-Year-Old Family Home and Preparing to Let It Go” and “The Value of Family Heirlooms in a Digital Age.” Jan currently lives with her attorney husband in Augusta, Maine, where she serves two Siamese cats and spends all her retirement money propping up a really old house.

10 thoughts on “Underwear Days

  1. In 1871 my great grandfather brought his family from Indiana to Kansas, homesteading just south of the Santa Fe Trail in a challenging environment. He planted 1000 Apple trees, and under those trees were beehives.

  2. Jan this was a very enjoyable read. I spent the last week in Underwear days. I had not known they were called that! I can say with authority it is the journey that matters. I chronical it in four relatively short blog posts.

    Here’s the first if you are interested. It was all because we found a birth certificate in my great grandmother’s diary for someone we didn’t know.
    .https://wheatonwood.com/2021/08/17/the-case-of-the-mysterious-birth-certificate/

    1. I enjoyed reading your posts and felt that the journey was Underwear Days in Alice in Wonderland! What a great bit of serendipitous research! I’ve also spent time in St. Helena/Calistoga/Santa Rosa/Windsor; beautiful area!

  3. Love it, both for the reminder about how family legends can lead us into a tangle, and for the apple angle. Just had the first local apples of the season.

    My childhood home in the suburbs was built on what had at one point been an orchard, and there were still a few of the old trees left, and one stray cherry that had seeded itself from what had been the cherry orchard in back of the house next door, where there was still a stand of more than a dozen. Unfortunately, the apples those trees produced were small and not that good to eat or cook with. My grandparents had both a crabapple and an old apple tree behind their house. Under the crabapple was where we always ate lunch. The apple tree not only produced apples, most of which my grandmother made into applesauce, but was also great for my brother and me to climb, and one of its branches supported a swing.. When it was severely damaged in a storm, my grandfather left the skeleton for a few years for our climbing.

  4. My grandparents had a summer cottage near Antioch, Illinois, with a pear tree, a pear/apple tree, and two old and gnarly apple trees, one perhaps a Gravenstein, was my favorite for climbing and eating. I was up there so much that Grandma said when she looked for me she always looked up first.

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