The Orchard: A Memoir
by Adele Crockett Robertson

Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt & Company, Inc., 1995. ISBN 0805040927.
Reviewed by Diana Nolan
Posted on 09/30/2008

Nonfiction: Memoir

This compelling memoir of Adele Crockett Robertson, known as Kitty, chronicles just a few years of her life during the early 1930's. While her story takes place during the Great Depression, it is uplifting and inspiring. I found myself cheering Kitty on as she describes her exhausting experiences to save the family property from foreclosure.

Kitty was not down and out as millions were. She was young, optimistic, and energetic. Faced with enormous debt when her father died and propelled by childhood memories of her family harvesting bumper crops of apples, Kitty decided to work the old family farm. The farm, in Ipswich, had become a rundown homestead; but the orchard was still there, holding promise. The very first obstacles are members of Kitty's family, her mother and two brothers, who speculate how quickly the venture will fail: "Let the bank take it," they chorus.

Undaunted, Kitty leaves her secure job to take up residence on the abandoned farm. What she finds are a stack of unpaid bills, neglected farm equipment, and leaky pipes. Like her father before her, Kitty believes in the fruit trees he planted for his retirement: "I wanted to preserve what we'd had, even though the animals were no longer there, and it was apples now."

Negotiating with creditors, Kitty settles some of the unpaid bills, while securing credit of much larger amounts to repair the farm machinery. Unable to pay for coal, she moves her bed and sofa to a small area near the sunny kitchen.

One of Kitty's first tasks is the spraying of the trees, a job that normally takes two men to accomplish. Kitty tackles the job alone. More challenges ensue. We are right beside her as she describes her first encounter with a swarm of bees, her frantic search for the old smoker, and finally getting the bees under control.

As a helper, Kitty hires Joe, a memorable figure. With a family of six to feed, he skips meals in order to feed the children. Joe comes to Kitty's rescue time after time, even staring down, with an unloaded gun, peddlers bent on stealing a truckload of apples.

Later, following a good harvest, Kitty despairs as she tells of racing to gather blankets from attic trunks, even her own bed, as temperatures drop and she attempts to cover hundreds of freshly packed boxes of apples ready for market, to keep them from freezing in the cellar.

The Foreword and Epilogue, written by Kitty's daughter, Eleanor Robertson Cramer, tell how she discovered the manuscript Kitty had stashed at the bottom of a bookcase. We learn of Kitty's life beyond the years of her memoir—further struggles, marriage, and later her accomplishments as a local historian, town selectwoman, and journalist.

The Orchard brings the Depression close to those of us who have heard the wrenching stories from parents and grandparents, as I have. Kitty's narrative, like my father's stories, is real, about a lone woman who strives to keep the family heritage with determination and grit, tempered with kindness to those around her in worse situations. Adele (Kitty) Crockett Robertson deserves a place in the annals of literature of the Great Depression. If you read but one personal account of surviving the Depression, let it be this.

With a Radcliffe College education and a secure job at the Hartford Museum, Adele Crockett Robertson opted to change course and save the family farm from foreclosure during the Great Depression. The ensuing years presented enormous struggles which she recounts in her book, The Orchard: A Memoir, published in 1995. In later years, she became an accomplished journalist and selectwoman in her hometown of Ipswich, Massachusetts. Her book, Measuring Time—by an hourglass, under the name of Kitty Crockett Robertson, was released in August, 2008, by Dog Ear Publishing. Robertson died in 1979 at the age of 78.

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