Grant Keltner

Apple Brown Betty

Apple Brown Betty

Now that I have your attention, I want to tell you an old folk story that was handed down from generation to generation.  A story about good friends, the power of love, kindness, music, and the magic that can happen when it’s all mixed in to create something special.

This story starts up in the cold confines of the British Columbia head waters and drifts through the rivers and streams that froze during the terrible winter of 1923, known in these parts as “The Famous Winter of 1923”.  Many locals in the British Columbia area still remember it as being one of the coldest, wettest, and wildest winters on record.

Our tale takes place on the island known as Vancouver Island, up in the Strait of Georgia, north of Vancouver as the crow flies.  This takes place in a small little town where fur traders, fishermen, and prospectors gathered together and formed the small town of Port McNeil.

Jacque L’eau Bleu lived in a small wooden cabin on the northeast section of Vancouver Island.  He painstakingly built his small home using some of the local river rock found on the island to form his solid foundation.  He then used the tall Douglas firs that grew on the island to frame his home.  His confines had a small kitchen, a tiny bedroom, and a warm fireplace that kept Jacque warm during the bitter cold winter. 

He owned a tug boat named Rosie.  He was a tug boat captain and had been running his tug in and out of the British Columbia waters for years and years.  It was a big tug, worn, and weathered.  It had old paint peeling off the boat and rust that had formed from the long, cold, wet nights.  He loved his tug, Rosie.

He had a trusty three-legged, one-eyed, black Labrador named Ring.  Ring had a broken tail that was bent and held together by an old bandanna.  Ring was a loyal dog and watched over the surroundings of the cabin for Jacque.  Ring was a good old guard dog.  “Woof!” barked his trusty companion.

Jacque also had two pet beavers named Ned and Ted.  They swam around near the edge of the island, up near the cabin.  They had made a house of brambles and brush and actually helped Jacque clear some of the timber when he built his cabin.  They were great friends in the first order, always helping each other with chores.  Jacque would feed his pet beavers bits of tuna and crab.  They were very full and content.

Jacque also had a pet bald eagle named Gus.  Gus would fly overhead, squawk, and screech if he saw anybody approaching the cabin.  He had keen eyes and sharp claws that could scratch the eyes out of anybody that bothered the inhabitance of the island.

Jacque wore a black stocking cap, had an old gruff looking beard, and dirty hands.  Sometimes he chewed his fingernails and had a few teeth that were missing.  He sported a plaid shirt with fish hooks attached to his sleeves.  He wore old jeans and a sturdy pair of muck lucks.

“Hello Jacque!” yelled the locals as they waved and paddled their canoes by his cabin. 

“My name is not Jacque, its Jacque L’eau Bleu you crazy bastards!” yelled the big Canadian tug boat captain.  Jacque had worked the waters for years.  He lived by himself and had never been married; he had bad luck with the ladies.  It was said that his true love lived in a small town, near a little city by the name of Sellwood, Oregon.  His true love was a girl by the name of Apple Brown Betty.  It’s known that the two loved each other very much at one time, but due to family differences and religious views they drifted apart.  It was said at times that Jacque could hear Apple Brown Betty singing in the night all the way from Sellwood as the stars twinkled in the bright Canadian night.

He played the banjo, whittled wood, whistled, set bear traps, took squats in a little outhouse, wore snow shoes, and read the latest stories by Jack London by lantern light.  He was a content man.  At times he smoked a pipe and realized at a young age that he didn’t need much in life to be happy, other than a full belly and a warm fire and his banjo.  He was a hard worker driving his tug in and between the islands of the Georgia Straight.  He’d help a large freighter with a hull full of fresh timber from Alaska find its way to port.  Sometimes he’d push a barge up through the island to unload sand for making cement.  He was loved and known by all.  He’d drink with his good friends when he came to port.  Usually he’d carry his banjo with him and strum it in the local dance halls.  He and his friends would sing into the night.  They’d laugh and tell lies, spit and cuss, and get into fights.  Usually he’d crawl back to Rosie at night and head to sea.

One day as Jacque was whittling a piece of wood on his front porch, a large raft carrying the local postmaster, a man known by the name of Ron Ronstien, stopped in and delivered a very important letter.  There in the mail was a letter from his true love, a letter from Apple Brown Betty!  He couldn’t believe that he had received the handwritten note.  They hadn’t spoken in years.  He tore the envelope open and proceeded to read the following scribbled words:

March 12, 1923

Hello Jacque –

I hope yer’ doin’ fine this cold and wet winter ya’ old coot!  It’s frigid as can be and wet here in Sellwood.  My cabin is old, but it longs for your company Jacque.  The roof is leaking, and the mice are gnawin’ at my toes.  My cat sleeps most of the day and is lazy as can be.  Darn ole’ cat!

 My good friend and comrade, B.O. Plenty, wishes that you would accompany us in the next few weeks for our annual hoot ‘nanny.  As usual will be playing and a strummin’ laughin’ and a stompin’ up a storm.  Be sure and bring yer’ banjo and be sure to bring Ring, Ted, Ned, and Gus!

Why don’t you look at bringing Rosie down through the Pacific coast?  You should head down the Willamette River and stop in on our little hideaway.  The hoot ‘nanny will be held on Saturday, April 3, 1923.  Friends and family will be in attendance.  It should be a grand time.

Best and hope to see you soon!

Love,

Apple Brown Betty

Jacque started to cry.  He couldn’t believe that Apple Brown Betty had sent him an invitation to her hoot ‘nanny.  “Ahhhhhh, Apple Brown Betty!  Ohhhhhh, Ahhhhhh!” cried Jacque.  He moaned and yearned for his beloved.  When Jacque started to mention the name of Apple Brown Betty, Rings ears would stand up straight and his eye would roll tether and fro.  The mere thought of this little wild flower conjured up a mighty emotion inside of Jacque L’eau Bleu.  Ring, Ted, Ned, and Gus would usually hide for a few hours knowing that Jacque usually would go into an uncontrollable heat in the mere mention of her name.  After all, he lived by himself in a cabin for cryin’ out loud!  “Ohhhhhhh, Ahhhhhh, Apple Brown Betty!”

He thought awhile and finally was settled on the idea that he would take Rosie, Ring, Ned, Ted, and Gus down the west coast to Sellwood, Oregon to visit Apple Brown Betty and her good friend B.O. Plenty.  He decided that he would leave in a week, gather his supplies for the trip, and head south down the coast of Washington.  He had several Native Canadian wood carvings that he would bring down to give to his friends.  He searched and searched for his clean duds and decided he would take his favorite banjo.  Everybody was excited.

Ring let out a happy bark of “Woof!”  Ned and Ted flapped their tails up and down in the river, while Gus squawked, dove deep in the water, and pulled out a thirty-pound salmon for dinner that night.  They knew it would be a fun adventure.  They all smiled.

Within a week, Jacque had all his supplies and decided to pack up Rosie and head out in a day or so.  The weather was rough, snow had fallen, and pieces of ice had gathered in the water.  It would take him about a week to get to Sellwood.  He started his trip early in the morning.  He woke up, put on fresh underwear and made pancakes and a big pot of coffee, and then fed Ring.  They jumped on the tug and set sail.

For days they drifted through currents, road the tides, and passed freighters in the cold dark of night.  They made their way in and out of high waves, zipping down through Orcas, Lopez, and Shaw Islands.  They weaved down through the Straights of Juan de Fuca and out into the vast Pacific.  Rosie’s bright-beamed headlight helped get the lively crew down the coast.  Whales helped point Jacque to the Columbia with their tails.  The stars, wind, and clouds would guide Jacque to their destination.

Rosie’s boiler belched a hot fire as Jacque stoked wood into the belly of the old tug.  She puffed and chortled her way down the Washington coast.  They passed through Native American fishing settlements and through Forks and Hoquiam.  Down the Washington coast line they traveled.  Once around the third night on his excursion, he pulled over and went clamming for a day in Long Beach.  Through the fog and torrential down pour of the hard-northwest rain Jacque finally found the mouth of the mighty Columbia River.

Down the river they floated, past Astoria, over the bar they drifted in and out with the swells.  Rosie’s whistle rang out with a toot, toot, tootie, toot, and toot!

They passed through farms and lush green countryside that sprawled along the landscape.  Salmon jumped as the tug cut through the bright sparkling water of the mighty Columbia.  Young kids waved at the sight of old tug.  The Canadian flag flew brightly high above Rosie.  Her smoke stacks belched dark black smoke in the sky.  It was cold and wet and approaching early April.

Soon, within a few days they saw the outskirts of Linton, Oregon.  At that time, it was one of the oldest trading posts on the Willamette River.  Jacque tooted Rosie’s whistle as they passed through the city of St. Johns and continued to chug down to Portland.  Docks and piers dotted the shoreline as the tug floated along the mighty Willamette.  They pushed south and soon came to the piers near Oaks Park in Sellwood.

There, a jumpin’ and a screamin’ and waving their hats in the air were Apple Brown Betty, B.O. Plenty, and several neighbors and town folk.  “Jacque!” yelled Apple Brown Betty.

Apple Brown Betty was near fifty years of age, sporting white long johns under a worn pink and green polka dotted dress.  She had big brown boots, dark red hair, and wore an old worn bowler hat with a daisy stuck in it.  She smoked a corn cob pipe, was missin’ a few teeth, and her face was worn like an apple doll from working hard at the local train yard.  She had been working in the train yards most of her life, watching after the locomotives, engines, and box cars.  She made sure they were pointed in the right direction and switched to the correct tracks.  Occasionally, she burped, snorted, and spat.  She had a pet owl named Hootie that followed her from time to time and an old tabby cat named Creaky Pete.  She even had a pet turtle named Buster.  She talked loud and loved life.  She was known as being a dirty bird from time to time.

B.O. Plenty was a great friend to Apple Brown Betty.  He had survived the Spanish American War, was a proud Republican, and a proud American.  He wore his old worn officer’s outfit and sported a long grey beard that reached down just above his belly.  He carried a flask of whiskey and would occasionally sneak a sip while nobody was watching.  He wore dark sunglasses and medals that he bought at an old second hand store.  He spread the bright pieces of ornaments across his chest.  Apple Brown Betty had met B.O. Plenty while he was hitching a ride through the train yards one day.  She offered him a place to stay.  In turn, he mended her house, nailed down her old roof, and mowed the lawn, and fed her chickens.

“Jacque!” yelled Apple Brown Betty.

Jacque looked at her and shook his head in disgust.  “How many frickin’ times do I have to tell you my name is Jacque L’eau Bleu!” yelled Jacque.  “Now stand back!  Let me pull Rosie into the pier!”

The crowd stood back as Jacque masterfully pulled the old tug up to the pier.  He guided her around and turned off the engine.  She floated into shore.  He grabbed a big rope that was attached to the side of the tug and threw it around an old stump.  He then dropped down a gang plank that allowed his lively crew to reach the friendly community of Sellwood.  Everybody waved and cheered as Jacque, Ring, Ned, Ted, and Gus jumped down onto the shore.  Apple Brown Betty ran up and gave Jacque a big smooch.  “Oh Jacque, how I’ve missed you!”

Jacque turned red, dusted himself off, and hugged Apple Brown Betty.  “Oh, Apple Brown Betty how I’ve missed you my little plump turtle dove!”

Jacque looked at B.O. Plenty and held his nose.  Remember, B.O. Plenty wasn’t named B.O. for nothin’.  “Howdy there Jacque Lea Bleu!  I heard many a tall tale about ya’!” replied B.O Plenty, “Can ya’ play checkers or shuffle board?”

“Why yes B.O., I have a carved checker set in my duffle bag, and I just happen to be the Canadian champion in checkers and shuffle board!”

“Ohhhhhhh Goodie!” screamed B.O. Plenty.

All of the neighbors gathered to look at Rosie the tug.  Her boiler had cooled down and was calm as she sat content and satisfied in her friendly confines on the Willamette River.  Ned and Ted floated around the tug gnawing on the fresh flotsam and jetsam.

Apple Brown Betty’s small cottage was tucked up under a huge old willow tree just up off of SE Nehalem Street off the cliffs that dotted the shoreline.  Her cottage was cozy.  She had a couple of bedrooms, a big pot belly stove in the kitchen, and a nice little yard that had a garden and a big scare crow planted out in front to frighten off the crows that would eat her vegetables.  She was known to be a hoarder, not with cats or rabbits, but with silver plates.  Her living room was adorned with silver plates and knick knacks.  Her prized plate was from the San Francisco World’s Fair held in 1904.  She quilted and sewed, made her own preserves from the apple trees she had in her yard, kept an old shotgun near the front door, and baked fresh pies and breads in her old French oven.  She had a nice sized canoe that she would take floating from time to time.

B.O. fished religiously, often catching and bringing home salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon.  He had a smoker in the backyard.

Jacque, Apple Brown Betty, and B.O. Plenty made their way up to the cottage.  Ring barked, the beavers made funny faces in the water, and Gus flew circling around them as they got to the front yard of the cottage.  “Well ya old sidewinder, ya’ brought yer banjo!” screamed Apple Brown Betty.

“Why yes I did!”

“Goodie, we should sit down and play!”  They walked into the living room where there was a big couch, a few sitting chairs, an old upright piano, and the walls adorned with paintings and her silver plates.  Jacque pulled out his old worn duffle bag and opened it up.  He unveiled prized wood carvings that he had made.  “Here B.O. Plenty.  I want you to have this little memento.  It’s an authentic Native Canadian totem pole that I carved!”

“Oh Jacque, this is great.  Thankie’ kindly!” replied B.O. Plenty.

Apple Brown Betty chirped in. “Now you know that the hootenanny is going to be held tomorrow!  All the neighborhood folks will be in attendance.  We’ll have his honorable, the Mayor Finster Fester Fibster in attendance and the pastor of our church, the Reverend Ms. Patti Smith saying grace and just about anybody that’s anybody will be here!”

“Ahhhhhh, Apple Brown Betty this will be great!  I cherish the ground that you walk on.  I look forward to playing my banjo and look forward to having you, B.O. Plenty, and the other guests and musicians playing at the hootenanny!”

They sat down and started to talk about his long trip.  He told his companions of the perils he faced with his cruise down the coast.  He told them of how cold it was.  His company sat in amazement as he talked with his hands describing the dark fog, currents, and tides that whisked him through his way down to Sellwood.

Apple Brown Betty ran into the kitchen and brought back some freshly baked whole wheat bread, a few scraps of a baked ham, and some goat’s cheese, along with a brown jug of fresh corn mash.  They drank and ate by the light of the stone fireplace, smoked their corn cob pipes, and told tall tales late into the night.  They laughed and screamed.  The neighbors gathered at the windows peering in and listening to the stories that were told by these monumental characters.

Jacque L’eau Bleu fell asleep on the couch, Apple Brown Betty stumbled around, accidently kicking her cat and fell into her bed.  B.O. Plenty stepped on Ring’s tail trying to find his way into his bedroom for a hearty night sleep.  They snoozed and snored through the night.  Hootie the owl hooted, and the alley cats sang as they poked around trying to find scraps in the garbage can to keep their bellies full.  The mice came out and scurried over the kitchen floor.

The next morning, the sunlight crept into the living room window casting a bright light in the blue eyes of Jacque L’eau Bleu.  He moaned and yawned, rubbed his eyes, passed gas, coughed, and hacked as he stumbled his way into the small bathroom down the hall.  Soon, Apple Brown Betty was heard rustling through pots and pans in the kitchen.  B.O. Plenty could be heard snoring in his warm bed, as he was a late sleeper.

Friends started to gather at the cottage that morning.  They carried food and musical instruments.  Some brought stuffed devil eggs, others brought fresh pies, crawfish caught in Johnson Creek, fresh smoked ham, and some fruits and vegetables.

They set up three big picnic tables in the big backyard that nestled up along the back of the cottage.  Gus the eagle and some of the local blue birds and sparrows spread out a huge checkered tablecloth over the tables.  Soon the place was a buzz.  Pots were boiling on every burner on her big kitchen stove.  All the women gathered in the kitchen peeling apples, baking bread, and stirring fresh baked beans.  They tried to keep the beans away from B.O Plenty!  The aroma carried throughout the house, drifted into the yard, and carried its way around the neighborhood.  The men weren’t allowed in the kitchen.  All the local dogs and cats migrated to catch a scrap of ham or a fresh piece of cheese.  Ned and Ted, the beavers, whacked salmon in the head with their tails out in the Willamette River.  Gus swept up the dead fish as they floated in the river and carried them back and drop them on a special plate on one of the picnic tables.  The women hummed away in the kitchen as the men chopped wood, smoked their pipes, and told tall stories.  It was a beautiful spring day in Oregon.

As the day got on, B.O. Plenty finally woke from his sleep, threw on his uniform, and shuffled out into the yard just in time to grab a cup of hot coffee and listen to a fishing story told by one of the local neighbors.  He squeezed on one of the beehives that hung from one of the rafters under the cottage.  Fresh honey came popping out.  He spread the fresh honey on a corn muffin.  They talked about fishing, carrying on about spinners and corkies, bait and ties.

Around 4:00 p.m., the women started to bring the feast out into the yard.  The bees buzzed around the food and Jacque L’eau Bleu grabbed a small concertina that someone had brought.  He started to play an old Canadian folk tune.  The folks gathered around and started to sing.  Everybody was so happy.  Soon, other musicians joined in.  There was big Danny Fudmucker pluckin’ the wash tub bass, B.O. Plenty a squeezin’ the accordion, Jacque L’eau Bleu strummin’ the banjo, Clem Kadiddlehopper blowin’on the harmonica, Slamin Sammy Sosa slidin’ away on the trombone, and Apple Brown Betty pounding away on her upright piano.  A few other musicians joined in and sat in on the gala event.

The place was rockin’ as they played “You are my Sunshine,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” and “Camp Town Races” along with other well-known folk tunes from the day.  The children ran and played, squiring through the legs of the elders and hiding behind chairs.  Several of the children starting clapping and dancing to the music.  Some of their parents placed the children on the top of their shoes and shuffled them around the yard.  It was truly a sight to see.  The older folks rocked in their rocking chairs and several of the parents started to dance and hold hands, parading around the yard.  Lemonade was served and ice cream with strawberries were dished up.  The place was magical with music.  It turned out to be a festive event.  The cats put doilies on top of their heads and danced with the dogs.  The field mice popped out of the old wooden floor in the kitchen and started to dance out into the yard.  Some of the crickets started to chirp in.  Gus the eagle and some of the geese, crows, and blue heron hovered above the heads of the congregation that had gathered and chirped in the trees.  Blue birds circled in the air dropping fresh flowers that they had gathered from a nearby meadow.  The cottontail rabbits hopped and jumped to the music.  They partied and carried on late into the sweet Sellwood night.  Everybody had a grand time.

While the party was at its fever pitch, Jacque L’eau Bleu hurried around in the living room and found his duffle bag.  He reached deep down in the bag, rummaged around and soon found a small box that he packed away, a special something that he was saving for this special occasion.  In this small fragile little box he had stored a small precious wedding ring, a bright diamond clasped by silver.  He had been waiting for the right time to ask Apple Brown Betty for her hand in marriage.  He had thought to himself, “Why not ask her now at this great gathering?”  He started to weep.  He ran out into the backyard, waved his hands in the air, and asked for everyone’s attention.  “Shhhhhh! Shhhhhh!  Please, please, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, please settle down all you woodland creatures!  If I could have a moment please!”

The crowd settled down.  You could hear a pin drop.  The mice even stopped dancing in the kitchen!  “I have known Apple Brown Betty for many years.  She is a special woman, with a heart as big as the mighty Willamette River!  I believe with all of my heart that she is the woman that I need in my life!”

He wrestled around in his pocket and pulled out the diamond.  He dropped to one knee.  “Apple Brown Betty will you be my wife?” shouted Jacque L’eau Bleu.

Apple Brown Betty dropped the coffee pot that she was holding in her hands, started to cry, and covered her mouth with her hands.  “Why oh yes!  Yes!  Yes!  Oh, yes Jacque L’eau Bleu!  I will be happy to be your wife!”

The crowd roared, the children screamed, the furry woodland creatures started to make funny animal sounds.  The women gathered around to look at the beautiful diamond and the men clapped Jacque on the back.

Jacque stood on top of one of the picnic tables and screamed at the top of his lungs.  “This is the greatest day of my life!  I will move down to Sellwood and live here with Apple Brown Betty!  B.O. Plenty has always wanted to fish the waters of British Columbia, so he can live in my cabin and fish the bountiful waters of my homeland!”  The crowd roared.  “So, now my friends, I invite you to eat the fresh sponge cake that I brought from Canada and to drink my Grand Marnier!”

The crowd roared.

The music carried on well into the night.  Candles were lit and a big bonfire was set in the fire pit.  It was decided that Apple Brown Betty and Jacque L’eau Bleu would marry that coming summer.  The reverend Ms. Patti Smith would perform the wedding ceremony.  The party continued into the early morning.  Several of the folks stayed the night, sleeping in the soft hay in the small barn in the backyard.

It was considered to be the hootenanny of all hootenannies, one of the largest the community of Sellwood had ever seen.  It took two days just to clear out the kitchen.

Jacque L’eau Bleu and Apple Brown Betty would marry in June of that early summer.  B.O. Plenty would be the best man and the wedding would be in the backyard.  After the wedding, Jacque L’eau Bleu and B.O. Plenty would travel back to Canada in Rosie.  Jacque then would help B.O. Plenty settle in the little cabin on the Strait of Georgia.  B.O. Plenty would fish and be content living the rest of his life in a very scenic spot.  Jacque would then travel back to Sellwood and live with Apple Brown Betty, Ring, Gus, Ned, and Ted.  The happy couple would live, hunt, fish, travel in Rosie, and spend the rest of their lives in the little cottage under the big old willow along the banks of the Willamette River in the small town called Sellwood.

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