Behind the farmhouse stood one of the most curious of things on the farm. The Osage Orange Tree.
The Osage Orange tree, also known as a Hedge Apple by the more intelligent of country folk, produced the most unique fruit of any growth on the farm. Its large green bulbous balls would hang from the long drooping tree limbs for an eternity.
The local squirrels loved the fruit. One could find piles of tattered “Oranges” scattered about the yard, a sure sign of tree squirrels in the area. It was also a sign that I was in the area.
Grandma used to place the “Oranges” on windowsills and such. She believed that they would keep the insects away. Grandma had lots of little folk remedies. She had a child repellent as well. One of her folk cures for keeping the children out of hair was to carry a soggy, smelly, dirty dishrag in her apron. Anytime she wanted to be alone and one of us kids would be too underfoot, she would whip this beauty out and wipe our face and hands with it. She was a very wise woman. I stayed clear of her.
She also warned us never to eat one of these “Oranges” as they were poisonous. Her warning came too late however; I had already tried eating one. I didn’t die, but it wasn’t that good either. I decided early on to let the squirrels have them instead.
Why it was called Osage Orange was a mystery to me as a child. The inside of the fruit was white and syrupy. Busting one open was certain to result in sticky hands which would allow a subsequent accumulation of dirt and debris, and probably one of the reasons I was always’ being told to “Wash your hands.” The fruit was not orange at all, it was green and about the size of a softball.
As a matter of fact, one of my youthful pleasures was treating them as softballs. I would use my trusty bat, a Louisville Slugger, Al Kaline model, on them. Many of my idle hours on the farm were spent in repeatedly slugging these sticky green softballs over the fence and into vaporized oblivion. After a few joyous hours behind the house, I would generally appear in the kitchen for lunch with my hands covered in cakes of dirt and with a white sticky ooze covering my body, with small pieces of green substance spattering my clothing and stuck on my face.
“Wash your hands.”
Out came the dishrag.
I ate lunch quickly.
Another favorite pastime, and one that should be quite familiar to anybody who grew up on a farm, was target practice.
Myself, I had a 20 gauge single-shot shotgun. Yes, I was allowed to play with firearms as a kid. As a matter of fact, not knowing how to handle a shotgun was considered a cardinal sin in my family. The green oranges made perfect targets.
My brother and I would take turns hurling these things into the air over the fence above the hollow. A well-aimed shot from the 20 gauge could produce the most spectacular of spectacles. There’s nothing more joyous than watching one of these baby’s explode, at least not to a 13 year old boy.
For some strange reason, but not at all objectionable, my sisters never seemed to want in on the fun. One possible reason may have been the fact that I could throw an Osage Orange at 90 miles per hour, and a most tempting target does a girls behind make. In hindsight (no pun intended), it makes perfect sense now. Why would my sisters want to hang around some filth coated 13 year old boy with a baseball bat and a shotgun, who smelled like a dirty dishrag and who was in all likelihood going to bruise their butt with an object the size of a softball hurled at 90 miles per hour, at the first and every ensuing opportunity.
Yep, it is all getting clearer now that I think about it.