Bertha and the Pear Tree
by Ruth Hammond Barrus
"Emma wants Bertha and me to come over to her place after primary, Mother. Their pear tree is loaded with ripe pears, and she has invited us to pick and eat as many as we can. Please, can I go?" Retta's brown eyes aided her voice in pleading consent. Only occasionally had she been allowed to go to other people's homes. She was fourteen now and she still had to say "no" to all house party invitations, because her father felt such parties were not conducted properly. But Emma Thornley was different. She was eight years older than Retta, was a good musician, and was married. Emma had taken the shy Retta five years earlier when she was sustained primary organist and had encouraged her in that position, practicing with her and aiding her to overcome her weaknesses. When Emma, herself a fine singer, discovered the sweet voice of Retta, duets were found and the two had sung duets together in church and at funerals all over the valley. Emma loved the beautiful in nature, in literature, and in music, and she found a companion is this love in Retta, seeking to further develop it in the younger girl by constant fine criticism and praise. Mother and father Hale appreciated this relationship, so were inclined to leniency when their daughter asked their permission to visit the Thornley home.
Mother Hale looked at her husband for his approval before answering her daughter. His nod brought smiles to mother and daughter, and happily Retta climbed on the buggy seat that Saturday afternoon, clapping the reins on Swiss's back. "Be home before dark," her mother called.
Mother had filled the buggy seat beside her with bright asters, chrysanthemums, zinnias and pinks to put on the stand at church and later to take to Emma's. Retta breathed deeply the crisp fall air scented with the pines beside her. As her eyes scanned the rich blue of the sky overhead, and the bright splashes of fall colors on Crow Mountain beside her, with the lofty, hazy, mysteriously distant Wasatch Mountains towering above, she felt a tingling desire to cling to this moment of beauty forever. Swiss seemed to sense the excitement, for he held his head high and trotted nimbly toward Smithfield.
It was her turn to lead the singing today and Bertha's turn to play. She was glad; she felt like singing, and one of the songs would be, Merry Spring and Rosy Summer, Golden Autumn all Aglow. She Sang it, beating time with the reins, much to the consternation of Swiss; but he had been well schooled as to the road to Smithfield and kept to his objective.
After primary, the three girls came up the grassy path of the Thornley's two-story home, singing and laughing, their arms loaded with flowers. Emma's young husband, Willie, heard them and waved and called to them from the barn, "If you need a ladder to reach the pears, I'll bring one."
Emma laughingly called back, "Thanks, but Bertha said she would climb for any that we can't reach."
After arranging the flowers in the friendly parlor and singing songs to Bertha's accompaniment, the three went arm in arm out to the orchard which bordered the road. The early fall pears were small, sweet and juicy, savoring of the zest of the day. The girls sat on the long grass beneath the trees, eating one pear after another, talking about school, church, and occasionally teasing Bertha about her new beau. The chunky, always-happy Bertha took their teasing good-naturedly. Eyeing the tempting pears higher up the tree, she said, "I can see that the only way I can get even with you is to climb this tree and throw pears down at you." Immediately she started to push herself up through the crowded limbs to a high position in the tree. "Now that I am up here I think these pears are too good for mean people like you, and I shall eat them all myself." Retta and Emma coaxed her to throw some down, but she shook her head and remained solidly on her perch.
Suddenly the tree began to shake and Retta and Emma saw Bertha recklessly scrambling down the tree. "Will Mather is coming down the road on a load of hay, and he mustn't see me like this." Will was her beau. Retta and Emma started to laugh, but stopped quickly, for all at once Bertha lost her hold and was falling earthward. She was jolted to a stop about two feet from the ground when her full heavy skirt caught on a stump of a limb. There she was, dangling in the air, her dress pulled up to her hips, revealing long black stockings topped with full white bloomers gathered at the knee with elastic.
"Oh! Get me down quickly before he comes!" she called desperately.
But Emma and Retta were in no condition to get anybody down. Their friend looked so funny hanging there in the tree that they laughed until they were weak; besides, they were two small, frail persons pitted against the over-weight of the other. They lifted and tugged, but Bertha was still hanging there when Will came into view. Fiercely Bertha encouraged them, but without results. As a last act, Emma and Retta stood in front, spreading their skirts to hide their embarrassed friend. Will waved gaily and gave no sign of suspicion that all was not right.
Will's passing by sobered the girls sufficiently to let them plan a more scientific release. It was decided that if Emma and Retta each pushed up on Bertha's feet, Bertha could be raised high enough for her to grab an overhanging limb, then she could draw herself up sufficiently to free her skirt. This plan succeeded, and they were free again to join in laughter.