Johnny Appleseed

The trees are magnificent standing guard over the old colonial, they are huge and dense evergreens with boughs and limbs draping to the orange soils of the farm. There are three of them, huge Magnolia grandiflora, or bull bay, more commonly known as the southern magnolia. They bloom creamy white saucer shaped flowers up to nine inches wide. They are native to North Carolina and are found south to Florida and west to Texas and Oklahoma. They have large dark green leaves that can be eight inches long and five inches wide with hard and heavy timber. The magnolia has been used to make furniture and veneer for doors and cabinets. But these trees, these three trees, they are special.

One of three big Magnolias in front of the old colonial.

As a small boy I remember sitting on my grandfather’s lap one evening. I was on a sleep over at the farmhouse he shared with my grandmother and I had crawled onto his lap while my grandmother cleared the dishes and fixed us all a small bowl of peaches for dessert. The sturdy upholstered chair held us both with ease as it sat squarely on the braided rag rug that wound around the living room. I was sitting sideways on his lap looking up under his chin playing with his waddle. He took my hand, stopping my play, and told me he was having Déjà Vu. He may not have used that term, I was too young to have known its meaning, but he might have, because in a way, he did not seem to be talking just to me.

He told me of sitting on his grandfather’s lap when he was a boy, much like we were doing that summers eve. He was playing with the skin of his grandfather’s throat where a wicked red scar raced across the side of his neck. His grandad told him he that back in the war he was fighting a Yankee, firing back and forth with a blue coat hiding across a small draw in a hardwood forest, all the while using a White Oak for cover. He stepped out to fire his muzzle loader and was struck in the neck by a musket ball. He was imprisoned in Pt Lookout, Maryland and walked home to that old colonial after the war.

My grandfather was rubbing that scar in his mind’s eye, while I was rubbing his neck in my Grandmother’s living room.

Late in 1865, after the Civil war the family story goes, a walking confederate soldier came to the house seeking food and shelter. My great great grandfather Thomas Foushee Hogan was there recovering from his grievous wound, but he gave generously food and let him camp and rest. The soldier was so appreciative of the care and help, he planted magnolia seedlings in the front yard, Johnny Appleseed style. Three tiny Magnolia grandiflora were put in the ground that day 156 years ago and I am here to tell you they are huge now. They provide care and shelter to the old colonial as they shade the home from the western sunset.

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