I walked up to the front yard farm stand and plunked down a buck for a gallon of apple cider. The wizened old farmer, who’d seen decades of freshmen come and go, wearily warned me that the stuff could turn, which of course, I knew and hoped for. “Youse kids,” he said with a central Pennsylvania twang, “needin’ ta be careful, this stuff’s fer drinkin’ not drinkin, if ya know what ah mean?”
I nodded, unconvincingly, and lifting the seven pound glass jug, trudged three quarters of a mile back to the dorm and then up the four flights to my room, which I never locked.
The cider got a place of honor, wedged precariously on the fourth floor window ledge of my dorm room. I needed to remember that it was there and not let it fall the forty feet to the pavement and lawn below. That took some concentration, since early mornings were rough enough without having to remember the jug was wedged under part of the double-hung window. I had a few close calls.
Luckily my parents had mailed me a CARE package a couple weeks earlier, thoughtfully including raisins, the magic ingredient, I was told, for adding that special touch to cider.
From the “experts” on the fourth floor I got conflicting advice on the time to add raisins to the mixture and about how many. Doing the math I took the average time given by all my advisors, which worked out to two weeks, and at that point added 10 raisins. I noticed that there was a mild pop when I pulled the cork out of the jug, like almost the one you get from opening nearly stale Ginger Ale. I waited, hoping that the weak October sun would warm the brown liquid during the day, and that the cold nights would work on the stuff as well.
Days turned into weeks, we had a frost, and the stuff inside the jug looked a little worse for wear. The cider seemed to be getting murky, and darker as the days wore on.
The glorious blush of summer gave way to the bad stuff to come. This part is called fall. Here in the middle of nowhere, equidistant from anywhere in the known universe, also known as State College PA, there were signs: in the pasture across the street the large herd of dairy cows waded through a foot of brightly colored leaves, football games were played every weekend, coeds seemed more covered up, and of course, I also needed to wear more than just a short sleeve shirt to class. Didn’t like hats and never wore one.
October 22nd, as I recall, was one of those crisp fall days. I walked from class to the dining hall; a friend told me that the president was on TV that night. I decided to do my laundry and stake a place in the basement TV room. As a freshman political science major I was supposed to be current on these things, and to read the New York Times every day. One out of two, that was my motto. Only two of us showed up to watch the TV so we each had an end of the horsehair sofa to lounge on. I resisted the temptation to take notes, and besides I had forgotten my little notebook.
John Kennedy spoke these words: “Good evening, my fellow Americans: This Government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet Military buildup on the island of Cuba. Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island. The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere.”
He ended with, “Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right- -not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom, here in this hemisphere, and, we hope, around the world. God willing, that goal will be achieved.”
We watched in stunned silence, then when it was over, walked slowly back to our rooms. I was 17, I might not see 18. It came to me that night--I needed to have the cider. I picked up the jug, by now extremely cold on one side and strangely warm on the other, and pulled at the cork. The cider exploded out of the narrow neck and covered me from head to toe. Undaunted I looked at the inch of so left in the jug, and raised it to take a swig. It was strong all right; it was cider vinegar, at that point, and perfectly awful. I spit it out.
Mitchell Burgess said, “If winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection. It's a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone. Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it's time to reflect on what's come before.”