A Taste of the Sweet Apple
by Jo Anna Holt Watson
From the back cover and endpiece of the 2004 first edition trade paperback (Sarabande Books):
The title says it exactly: Reading this book is indeed like tasting a sweet apple. Its 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. Im partial to any writer who can come up with a wall-eyed laundress and a prize bull named Big Business, in a place called Heavens Little Footstool. This is a wonderful book.
Bobbie Ann Mason
A Taste of the Sweet Apple is a moving meditation on the love of a place and the way the land becomes a part of its inhabitants. Watsons writing is evocative and heartbreaking, lyrical, and often hilarious. A vivid cast of characters takes us completely into this world, reminding us of the power of storytelling in a time when we need it more than ever. This is a beautifully wrought memoir.
In this memoir of small-county life, where emphasis is on character essential to the ethics of community, a young girl of robust curiosity keeps company with the spells her people cast. 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. Theres a tempestuous country-physician father, a beautiful powerful mother in powerless times, and the wonderfully long-winded Aunt Tott. We witness the travail of hired laborers as well as the beauties of craft and devotion in Holt Watsons sharp rendering of traditional tobacco culture.
A seven-year-old girl may set her buckteeth on fire or bite her pony, but never misses the silent rush of spring water deep within the greenest land, a land from which she, too, springs. Brimming with unsentimental innocence and the sensuality of furs, tobacco, and her mothers lemon lily beds, 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 was born and reared in Woodford County, Kentucky, the heart of the Bluegrass. An entrepreneur and recycling advocate, she was co-owner of Bandana Yardbird, a company that used garden tool parts to produce whimsical birdlike yard sculptures. According to the Atlanta Constitution, Pee-Wee travels around the country wearing a blue blazer and a straw hat preaching the gospel of recycling. Holt Watson is a fourth-generation Kentuckian and self-proclaimed Yellow Dog Democrat. She is an amateur photographer, gardener, and sportsperson; former horse trials judge; and creator of Plumbline, a series of televised panel discussions regarding critical political and social issues. She was responsible for bringing together Jane Morton Norton and John Walsh to establish the Morton Center. Jo Anna Holt Watson lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her Airedale, Harrie Holt, and Welsh terrier, Maggie Tarbell.
Excerpts from other reviews:
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 Watsons gratitude to them for holding things together when her family threatened to fall apart.
A clear-eyed memoir of a golden time that lightened the years ahead.
She captures Woodford County, or Heavens Little Footstool, at a particular moment in time, and her memoir, which covers a five-year period, is vivid without lapsing into sentimentality.
With the deftness and clean lines of a master draftsman, she draws the landscape and the people with telling details that make them believable and worth knowing. She describes such familiar places as the barn and kitchen with Norman Rockwell realism. On the other hand, in portraying her family, warts and all, she also dips her pen in Southern Gothic when, for example, she describes her grandfathers ignominious end by falling over dead in a cucumber patch and his directions that he have a three-day wake without benefit of embalming. The scenes are so vividly realized that any of them could be dropped whole into a play or film script.
Wade Hall, Courier-Journal