Taste of the Sweet Apple: A Memoir

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[A] quirky memoir, without the sentimentality and insistence that drives so many personal accounts. Holt Watson has a deeply moving story to tell, with fully realized characters set loose in a specific world and time. And she has a distinctly humorous voice. I'm partial to any writer who can come up with a walleyed laundress and a prize bull named Big Business, in a place called Heaven's Little Footstool. This is a wonderful book.-Bobbie Ann Mason

Jo Anna "Pee-Wee" Holt Watson's voice is so vivid that the reader ...

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Overview

[A] quirky memoir, without the sentimentality and insistence that drives so many personal accounts. Holt Watson has a deeply moving story to tell, with fully realized characters set loose in a specific world and time. And she has a distinctly humorous voice. I'm partial to any writer who can come up with a walleyed laundress and a prize bull named Big Business, in a place called Heaven's Little Footstool. This is a wonderful book.-Bobbie Ann Mason

Jo Anna "Pee-Wee" Holt Watson's voice is so vivid that the reader is transported to a vanished rural culture: mid-20th century Kentucky. This memoir documents one summer, her seventh, at Grassy Springs Farm in the Bluegrass region of Woodford County. At the center of the book is a poetic and telling bond, an adoring friendship between this small white girl and a black foreman, Joe Collins. There's a tempestuous country-physician father, a beautiful, powerful mother in powerless times and the "wonderfully long-winded" Aunt Sudie Louisa. We witness the travail of hired laborers as well as the beauties of craft and devotion in Holt Watson's sharp rendering of traditional tobacco culture.

Here is a world of shadowy lanes, granddaddy's ice-cold artesian well, tobacco stripping rooms, a girl's pony barn, Ginnie Rae's Beauty Shoppe on Main Street and Ocean Frog's Grocery. Brimming with unsentimental innocence, she draws a tough-minded, tomboy—accomplished portrait of girlhood. In the rural tradition, Holt Watson is a conjuror of tales both hilarious and moving, mixed with temper and spirit.

Jo Anna "Pee-Wee" Holt-Watson is a fourth-generation Kentuckian and self-proclaimed Yellow Dog Democrat. She is an amateurphotographer, gardener, avid sports-person, former horse trials judge, and creator of Plumbline, a series of televised panel discussions regarding critical political and social issues. She currently lives in Louisville, Kentucky.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Despite some uneven writing and wandering storytelling, this memoir is frequently touching and laugh-out-loud funny. The titular "sweet apple" refers to chewing tobacco, which a six-year-old Watson yearned for when she was a hell-raising tomboy on her father's Kentucky tobacco farm in the summer of 1942. She adored farm manager Joe Collins, who taught her how to test the soil by eating it, plant seedlings from a tobacco setter, chew tobacco and spit. He rescued her when she was stranded in a tree house and put out the fire when, in a rage, she shoved matches between her buck teeth and lit them. Watson inherited her temper from her father and grandfather, who were both prone to intermittent rages. Although Watson's parents loved her and each other, "we just never knew when things might come to a boil," and when life at home got dangerous, it was Joe Collins and Eva Belle, the cook, to whom Watson ran. The strongest aftertaste from this rhapsody about life on a Woodford County tobacco farm, with its horses, blooming crabapple tree, timeless summer and ubiquitous cigars, cigarettes and chewing tobacco, is of the heartfelt, old-fashioned loyalty of the hired help, and Watson's gratitude to them for holding things together when her family threatened to fall apart. Agent, Nancy Green Media. (Nov. 15) Forecast: This memoir has regional appeal and will satisfy readers interested in the history of Kentucky and tobacco farming. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The inaugural title in the nonprofit publisher's Woodford Reserve Series in Kentucky Literature, Watson's debut perfectly recalls the summer when a black foreman taught her how to set tobacco plants, chew the best dried leaf, and survive the sudden squalls that roiled her otherwise loving family. The author nicely describes Grassy Spring Farm, where her kin raised horses, cattle, and some of the best tobacco in the world. The family had cultivated this land since the Civil War, and though Watson's father was a doctor with a practice in town, he was also a farmer. Grassy Spring defined her childhood: "I did not want to separate myself from it and I grieved for my time there long before it was gone." Though Watson moves back and forth in time to recall changes in her own life and the farm, the heart of her story concerns the summer she turned seven, in 1942. Always close to farm foreman Joe Collins, the girl became his helper and dreamed of being a farmer like him. She rode the tobacco setter with Joe, looked for guinea-hen feathers for his hat, ate lunch with him by the well. On the surface it seemed an earthly paradise peopled with agreeably eccentric relatives, a laundress who sang to the spirits, and a grocer called Ocean Frog, but there were intimations of lurking instability and tragedy. Watson's beautiful mother, Sally Gay, grew flowers to find serenity; her father could be the best of companions, but he often became dangerously irascible, threatening everyone by pointing a gun that Joe had to wrestle away. Other dark moments would come, but memories of that transcendent summer endure. A clear-eyed memoir of a golden time that lightened the years ahead.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Jo Anna "Pee-Wee" Holt-Watson is a fourth-generation Kentuckian and self proclaimed Yellow Dog Democrat. She is an amateur photographer, gardener, avid sportsperson, former horse trials judge, and creator of Plumbline, a series of televised panel discussions regarding critical political and social issues. She lives in Louisville, and in Mountain Lake, Florida, with her Airedale, Harrie Holt, and Welsh Terrier, Maggie Tarbell.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2004

    Middle Kentucky native writes about real life

    Jo Anna Holt-Watson spins a tale of childhood imagination that is seldom seen in any except seasoned published authors. 'A Taste of the Sweet Apple: a Memoir' has been well, but sometimes too innocently written, yet with a brilliant flair that will actually make you 'teary-eyed' in one instant and laugh out loud in the next. Her 'Memoirs' of her life on a rural central Kentucky tobacco farm in the '40s relates tales of a tender relationship with 'the hired help,' whom she brazenly persuades the reader into loving as much as she assures that she probably really did. Her tender feelings toward these simplistic, but ardently faithful 'keepers,' is not wasted on wishy-washy endearments, but rather is skillfully woven into her story, as told in the first person by a genuine tom-boy and sometimes romantic, but always head-strong girl. This is a 'must read' for all who yearn for a very fast, entertaining 'realistic look' at youth, through the eyes of an excellent storyteller. -- Thomas S. Markham, Lookout Mountain, GA

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