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Author Biography: Deborah Smith has written seven other
contemporary novels, including "A Place to Call Home," "On Bear Mountain," and "The Stone Flower Garden." She is married and lives in the mountains of northern Georgia.
Hush the First had grown up growing apples in the old country, where
her daddy managed an Englishman's fruit trees. Hush knew how to site
an orchard, how to make a graft take life on the rootstock, how to
draw bees covered in pollen every spring, how to store apples for
months every winter. She understood an apple tree's need for warm
soil and good water and clear, cool skies, and the apple trees
understood her. Like them, she had a yearning for land, the kind of
good orchard land even a dirt-poorwidow could claim for nothing.
That land lay in the cradle of a wild mountain paradise called
Chocinaw County, Georgia.
Hush the First found her way to a broad creek valley at the base of
Chocinaw Mountain and Chocinaw's sister mountains, Big Jaw and
Ataluck. That valley was called the Hollow by mountain people, like
the mysterious hollow at the base of a great, towering tree. It lay
so deep in the laps of Chocinaw, Big Jaw, and Ataluck that it could
only be reached on foot and was so far from civilization that nobody
but a desperate person would want to try. The Hollow sat ten miles
west of Dalyrimple, the courthouse seat of Chocinaw County (where
everybody was unashamedly glad the war had ignored them), twenty
miles south of shell-shocked Chattanooga, Tennessee, a hundred miles
north of burned-out Atlanta, and a thousand miles west of the
Scottish lowlands where Hush had been born.
"Nowhere" had a better chance of being found on a map. To add to its
mystique, the Hollow was shunned by local folk as a valley of the
dead. There, in a glen along the creek, lay buried the corpses of
nearly fifty Union and Reb soldiers. They'd killed one another in a
nasty mutual massacre only the year before Hush arrived. The
mind-your-own-business mountaineers of Chocinaw County had buried
the soldiers in shallow graves, right where they'd fallen.
Dalyrimple's most educated man, town founder Arnaud Dalyrimple
- bartender, gambler, minister of the gospel, and newspaper columnist
- wrote in the Dalyrimple Weekly Courier: The gloriously wild Hollow
is as haunted as Mr. Abraham Lincoln's own most personal Hell.
But Hush looked at the Hollow and saw apple country. The
mountainsides protected it from high winds and gave shade from the
blistering southern sun; the mountain springs seeped water down to
the Hollow's big creek in a dependable supply. Most of all, groves
of wild crab apples draped the lower hills like oases among the
granite cliffs. Those tough little trees clung to the crevices
between laurel shrubs and rock, blooming like mad. They knew a good
home when they found one, and they knew the Hollow was meant for
apples. "Apple trees do no' mind a few bones, and the dead do no'
mind a few apples," Hush said. She gave her fifty dollars for a deed
to the Hollow's two hundred acres, set up camp, cleared the soil,
and planted her seeds.
Now, apples are the same as people. No two seeds are alike. Plant a
hundred seeds and you'll get a hundred unique apple trees - some
good, some bad, but most ordinary, like anybody's children. Hush
knew only time and fate would sort out the curious mix she'd planted
- Vandermeers from Pennsylvania, Coleridge Yellows from Maryland,
Spirit Reds from the Carolinas, and many more. There were hundreds
of apple varieties in the cool eastern half of this country then.
Every small farm had an orchard, and every county had a breed of
apple to call its own. Farmers waited to see what each season's bees
would bring them on fuzzy bee legs covered in pollen. They studied
every offsprung seedling like pilgrims searching for a holy leader.
Maybe this one will be special. Maybe this one will be the queen
mother of all apple trees.
Hush watched her trees for ten years, then twenty. By then her
children had grown and gone, and she'd added a room to her drafty
log house, established a small lot of cattle and chickens and pigs,
built a barn, and bought two new mules. Her sons had hacked out a
muddy wagon lane over to Dalyrimple and named it McGillen Orchards
Road. Hush earned a meager living selling wagonloads of apples to
the townsfolk every fall. But still, no special tree. Every spring
she watched the bees flit back and forth between her tame orchard
and the wild, seductive crab apples on the mountainsides. A daughter
who had moved to Atlanta wrote to a friend: Mama still believes God
in His Heaven will smile on the marriage of her trees and His.
As she grew older, Hush taught a granddaughter, Liza Hush McGillen
(known as the second Hush McGillen), to help her in the orchard.
Together, they studied each year's maturing young trees for the One.
In the fall of 1889, they found it. There it was, in its first
season of fruit - a strong, proud young tree standing right in the
middle of the old burial ground of the dead soldiers, sprung up from
their bones, bearing apples so sweet the juice burst in the mouth
Hush and Liza Hush fell to their knees, crying and laughing and
eating that wondrous fruit. Over the years that followed, they
slivered twigs from the young tree's branches, trained them onto
rootstock, and cloned the marvelous mama tree a hundred times, then
two hundred, and more. Word traveled like love-hungry apple bees;
people came to buy. Hush sold apples, and Hush sold grafted
seedlings, and Hush sold Hush - her legend, that is. Redder than an
Arkansas Beauty, as long-keeping as a Ben Davis, juicier than a
Jenny's Eureka, sweeter than a Blush Delilah. The Sweet Hush apple.
Every generation before me earned the right to the name, and I'd had
to as well.
I WAS TRAINED TO GROW the Sweet Hush by my great-aunt Betty Hush
(the fourth Hush McGillen), who had owned the Hollow before my
father. Betty had learned the apple business from her elder cousin,
William Hush McGillen (the third Hush McGillen and the only one who
happened to be male), who had run the famous Sweet Hush orchards
during their first heyday, between 1900 and 1930. According to all
the family stories, William Hush McGillen had been endowed with the
expert business sense of a preacher pumping sinners for nickels. I
liked to think I inherited his knack.
All of Chocinaw County sported Sweet Hush apple orchards during the
reign of William Hush, and the widely seeded McGillen clan basked in
comfortable homes with fine iron stoves in the kitchens and fast
Model T cars in the yards. William Hush and all his cousins sold
apples by the ton and illegal homemade apple brandy by the
barrelful. Down in Atlanta, William's sister, Doreatha McGillen,
started the Sweet Hush Bakery Company.
Every year the mountain McGillens sent thousands of the best Sweet
Hush apples by mule wagon and train down to Doreatha, who stewed and
pureed and spiced them into fillings for all man-ner of baked goods.
Those delicious products were hand delivered to the city's finest
homes by white-suited black men in handsome, horse-drawn wagons with
SWEET HUSH BAKERY on the sides in scrolling Victorian letters. Sweet
Hush deep-dish apple pies regularly appeared on the dessert board at
the governor's mansion. Then the Depression wiped out Doreatha's
bakery. Federal revenue agents from the Roosevelt administration
broke up the McGillen liquor business (and our families, too - my
proud grandfather and one of his cousins, both deacons in the
Dalyrimple Baptist Church, were caught with their liquor stills and
killed themselves rather than serve time on the chain gang). But
worst of all, the rise of modern refrigeration and long-range
shipping turned local apples into a novelty, not a necessity. Most
of the great southern orchards were gone by the time of my birth in
1962 - chopped down, burned to their stumps, forgotten, unwanted,
unloved. Potter Prides, Escanow Plumps, Sweet Birdsaps, Black Does,
Lacey Pinks - all were extinct from the earth, and hundreds more
like them. Gone forever. We McGillens continued to suffer one streak
of bad luck after another (my own father died young of a heart
attack while chopping briars in the orchards), but we and our Sweet
Hushes hung on by stubborn stems, refusing to give up in a world
that had turned us aside for cheap Wisconsin Winesaps and ice-cold
As a child, I became determined to make people taste us again.
THE FIRST ELEVEN YEARS of my life, before Daddy died, were perfect.
Mama sang as she worked in the orchards beside him; Daddy was always
cheerful, or at least seemed that way. And I was their apple
princess, the fifth Hush McGillen of Sweet Hush Hollow, the
prettiest place on the face of the earth. It bloomed in the spring,
ripened like a womb in the summer, fed our souls in the fall, and
slept in the kindest dreams of sanctuary all through the cold
winters. McGillen orchards paraded across the broad creek valley and
up the feet of Chocinaw, Ataluck, and Big Jaw Mountains, covering
terraces built by generations of backbreaking McGillen labor. We had
a saying in the family: True Sweet Hush apples can only be grown by
God and McGillens. There was something dark and rich and haunted in
our soil, the old folks whispered. "That kind of earth always
produces the most satisfying fruit," Daddy said.
I had no idea we were poor, and I had not yet begun to understand
what our relatives meant when they mourned the last evidence of our
family's grand past - the monogrammed silver pitcher Daddy polished
lovingly and displayed atop an old pine table. There was a time, I
heard old aunts say, when our family didn't have to sell off its
As far as I was concerned, all the fine heirlooms were still with
us. They grew in splendid, blooming beauty around me on our
hillsides and were recorded in the dusty agricultural texts in the
living room's simple oak bookcase. On the wall, in a place of glory
above our sag-backed plaid couch, hung the one, the only framed
piece of fine art in our home: a 1909 botanical rendering, in full
color, of a Sweet Hush apple.
"It was first published in the big federal agricultural references
of the time," Daddy explained, telling the story repeatedly to me
when I was a child, as if it were a fable or a favorite ghost tale.
I loved the look of pride on his face when he spoke of our former
grandeur. "A pair of men were sent here from Washington. They sat in
the orchards with the whole family watching as one painted a perfect
specimen of a Sweet Hush apple and the other one studied dozens of
apples and made notes."
Then Daddy would open our very own aged copy of the resulting
glorious government tome and read the men's conclusions solemnly, as
if reciting from the Bible: "The ripe Sweet Hush fruit is deep red
in color, bordering on burgundy; the fruit is uniform and round in
shape, of medium size; the stem is thick and long in an acute,
blackish, unlipped cavity; the basin large and shallow, unfurrowed;
the flesh extra crisp and very white. The apple ripens from
September to December; it stores well over winter, and holds its
flavor in cooking." Daddy always paused at that point, gathered his
breath, then recited the most important part of all in a deep,
profound drawl. "The taste is like pure fresh honey mixed with the
finest cane sugar. There is no acidic aftertaste in a Sweet Hush.
Every bite seems to melt on the tongue. A truly spectacular apple."
Truly spectacular. Imagine. Government men using superlatives like
that, without being bribed.
Mama, being a small part Cherokee, would stand beside Daddy and
offer her Cherokee grandmother's advice. "'The Sweet Hush is the
best apple for what ails you,' Granny Halfacre said. 'Because sweet
apples settle the stomach and clean the intestines and soothe the
heart.'" Years later I would think back on those words with a
certain wry sorrow. Surviving as an apple farmer did indeed take
heart, guts, and a strong stomach. But as a child all that mattered
to me was the miracle of our association with one of God's finer
gifts, which, by no small measure of pride, was my namesake.
"My own little prize apple," Daddy called me. "Just like your
I had Mama's angular face and long, knob-tipped nose, her wide,
downturned mouth and Cherokee cheekbones, but Daddy's strong chin
and deep green eyes. No haircut or perm ever kept my rust-brown hair
from shagging around my face like a horse's forelock. People never
said I was beautiful, but they always said I was a looker. But then,
so is an albino calf. Daddy said I had green-apple eyes. I turned a
raw, unripened stare on the world outside Chocinaw County, daring
that world to take a bite out of my happy, hardy self. Until
finally, it did.
AT THE START OF apple season in 1974, while Mama was at her
backbreaking job waiting tables at the Dalyrimple Diner, I poured
cider from the silver pitcher onto the gnarled roots of the first
Sweet Hush tree and cried until I thought my head would burst. Daddy
had died while working in the orchards the summer before with Mama
holding his head while I ran for help, and I would never stop
missing him. I was only twelve years old and still so in love with
my own daddy that the world began and ended with his passing.
"You'll own the Hollow one day," he'd told me not long before he
died. "I know you'll make it proud of you. You're the fifth Hush
McGillen. Don't ever forget that."
I had to do something, or the farm would be lost. The fame and
fortune of the old days were no more than a moldering Studebaker in
the main barn and the remnants of the silver service we'd had to
sell. I understood, now.
All we had left were our apples.
I lugged two empty bushel baskets, a plank, a handful of paper
sacks, a cardboard box full of freshly picked Sweet Hushes, and my
baby brother, Logan, through the orchards and up the long dirt lane
from the farmhouse to McGillen Orchards Road. I set up my homemade
table and stood beside it, holding a big sign I'd made on a square
of cardboard using red house paint.
THE ONE, THE ONLY, REAL SWEET HUSH APPLE
NO WORMS, NO ROTTEN SPOTS
55 CENTS A BAG
2 BAGS FOR ONE DOLLAR
I had noticed that people from Atlanta had started driving through
the Hollow. They'd come up the new spur off the interstate, then
turn right on the state route, meandering through the mountains to
look at the scenery before heading home to their subdivisions and
Excerpted from Sweet Hush
by Deborah Smith
Copyright © 2003 by Deborah Smith.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted January 17, 2013
An up to date novel written in a way that makes you want to keep turning the pages. Wonderful tie from the
beginning of the orchard to present day. A running of emotion grabbing events from beginning to end. A really
Posted August 27, 2011
Very enjoyable read. Chapters devoted to introducing individual characters and their background made me a little impatient; but, once everyone is established, the story moves with intensity and emotion. Smith is a thoughtful writer who drops gems of wisdom in unexpected places. The story is much more than the unexpected marriage of the President's daughter and the Harvard educated son of an apple farmer. It delves deeply into parental love and protection of children and family in diverse circumstances.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
Fifth generation apple grower, Hush McGillen is proud of her Georgia mountain roots and being 100% American, but she never expected to be spending any time at the White House. She had not even contemplated visiting as a tourist. However, not only is she in DC and inside the Pennsylvania Avenue barriers, Hush is at war with the First Lady on the enemy¿s turf. The war of the women began when Hush¿s son Davis brings to the orchard his pregnant Harvard girlfriend, ¿Eddie¿ Jacobs. Now Eddie is no ordinary student as she is the First Daughter and she and Davis have slipped away from the Secret Service. Surprisingly, Hush turning deep purple when she begins to find the First Nephew quite attractive, but there still remains a war of the ladies to resolve as the vultures from the media begin turning over the red clay. The romance seems unlikely, but once the reader accepts that Eddie and Davis are an entry, the audience will appreciate the richness of the story line. The key to the tale is when Hush provides her fist person observations of the past, present, and the future. When the nephew takes center stage, he behaves more like Edward G. Robinson in a flick than a relative of the first family. Still, fans of Deborah Smith will delight in her latest contemporary tale that sheds a deep light on rural Georgia. Harriet Klausner
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Posted December 23, 2011
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Posted December 19, 2008
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Posted April 8, 2011
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