Jem ran quickly back to the farmhouse, the cotton bag filled with apples slung over his shoulder. Would they have ice cream or a thick egg custard with the apple pie tonight?
Sunday dinner was the best part of Jem's week. His mother always made pie and his father always told him a story. Jem never grew tired of either. The apple pie was delicious and the stories were exciting.
Father had promised a new story for tonight. A story about apples! Apples were delicious.
They certainly made a tasty pie - but how could they make an interesting story? Jem couldn't wait to find out.
Dinner was over, and Jem stuffed the final spoonful of apple pie into his mouth. He knew exactly what would happen now. He swallowed, and looked over at his father with bright, wide eyes. His father wiped his mouth on his linen napkin and coughed to make sure he had his son's attention. It was time for the story.
'We must thank Mother for making us that wonderful dinner, and thank her especially for the delicious apple pie. But who do we thank for the apples?'
Jem screwed up his face to think.
'I think we must thank Mother Nature, Father.'
'We must indeed. But old Mother Nature had a bit of help with the orchard where you picked the apples. She had an assistant called Johnny Appleseed.'
Appleseed? Jem thought this was a very strange thing to call anyone, and he leaned forward eagerly to hear more about this man with the odd-sounding name.
'There once lived a family called Chapman in the town of Longmeadow in the state of Massachusetts. The Chapmans had five sons and five daughters. One of the boys, John, loved nature and he spent all his time in the fields and woods near his home. His nine brothers and sisters thought he was a little odd for always wanting to be alone in the countryside.
'In his late teens, John decided to leave Massachusetts and travel through all the states of North America as a church missionary, spreading the word of God.
'He bought himself a canoe, and paddled upriver from Longmeadow to his uncle's farm a few hundred miles away. But when John arrived at his destination, he was surprised to find the farm deserted. A neighbour told John that his uncle and family had left the farm to find a better life in the city.'
Jem's father paused and took a long drink of cider from his mug on the table.
'What did he do next?' Jem piped up anxiously.
'Well, John Chapman had a sudden change of mind. He decided to give up his idea of becoming a church missionary, and to become an apple missionary instead.'
Jem screwed up his face again, but said nothing. Had he heard correctly what his father had just said?
'Yes, John made up his mind to spread apple seeds, not religion, throughout the rural states of North America. And where better to start than right here in the area around his uncle's deserted farm?
'He worked out a plan to visit all the nearby cider presses, wash and gather the apple seeds out of the crushed fruit pulp and travel around the region planting apple trees all through the countryside.
'He built himself a small log cabin as a base, and each day he set off on his mission to plant apple seeds wherever he could. After a few years, as his apple trees grew stronger, his wanderings began in earnest.
'Barefooted and wearing ragged clothes, his bag of apple seeds at his waist, he travelled further and further afield, planting orchards by roadsides, at the edge of streams and on the outskirts of towns.
'Johnny's wanderings lasted more than 50 years, and he most certainly planted the orchard at the bottom of our lane. One day, when he was 72 years old, Johnny Appleseed was found dead in one of his orchards. Some local people buried him in an unmarked grave. The apple man's mission was over and the landscape of North America had been changed forever.'
Jem's father raised his mug of cider into the air.
'I propose a toast to Johnny Appleseed who gave us this tasty drink and the delicious apple pie the three of us have just eaten. To the memory of Johnny Appleseed. Johnny Appleseed ... thank you!'
1 Why did John Chapman's siblings think he was a bit odd?
2 What career did John first choose for himself?
3 What did he decide to do instead?
4 Where did he usually get his supply of apple seeds from?
5 How much of his life did Johnny devote to planting apple orchards?
6 How did he die?
1 Because he liked to spend time alone away from the family in the countryside.
2 John first intended to become a church missionary.
3 He decided to plant apple orchards all over North America.
4 He got his apple seeds from discarded apple pulp in cider presses.
5 He spent all his life planting apple trees.
6 He died of natural causes in one of his own apple orchards.