The pear tree.

That old thing beside my grandparents’ driveway stood its ground against privet and neglect.

It was present when they bought the Walker County farm in 1915.

They had married two years earlier but it took them that long to cut the apron strings of his domineering grandmother, who ran everything, then move across the mountain to Naomi.

Parents were nervous when kids climbed the tree. It was the only climbable tree in the yard.

Limbs died and fell but the durable pear tree was deeply rooted and soldiered on.

Cows and deer monopolized the fruit but there were enough for shelves of canned pears in the wash room.

The pear tree became a shelter for churning ice cream.

My grandmother kept ice cream making off the front porch because she feared salty water would harm her yellow bells (forsythia) lining the front porch. They originated from Millie Tate Keown’s well house, her maternal grandmother.

Yellow bells still bloom on the outer edge of the mountain-facing porch of the haggard old dwelling. They have been divided and passed around to any cousin who wants one.

No salty water flowed off the south porch either. It was too near her arbor of white grapes from the ancient McWilliams home in the Green Bush community across the mountain.

The McWilliams immigrated from Antrim, Ireland, in November of 1815. We know that because the youngest daughter, Mary Jane, was born at sea.

The pear tree was the only shady place left to churn.

Before businesses were air conditioned there was one place in LaFayette, Ga., cold enough to shock your system on a hot July day: the ice house. It stood beside railroad tracks dividing the town.

The ice guy scored off a 25-pound block with a pick, lifted it with ice tongs into a crusher. The machine, driven by an electric motor, screeched into motion and macerated the block into a brown bag of chunks.

My grandmother made a custard of fresh cream and eggs. My grandfather favored ice cream with peaches from his orchard across the pond.

Males took turns grinding the crank of the churn. Being permitted to turn the crank was a rite of passage into the world of older males.

The old wooden churn is long-gone. Steel bands holding it together rusted away long ago but I keep a plastic churn at the mountain cabin, “Respite,” and plan to use it next week.

Few things bring the satisfaction of freshly churned ice cream.

The last nub of the pear tree withered years ago. In its last spring the stump produced enough threadbare sprouts to identify it.

Then it was gone.

Joe Phillips writes his “Dear me” columns for several small newspapers. He has many connections to Walker County, including his grandfather, former superintendent Waymond Morgan. He can be reached at

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