Monday, September 24, 2012
We all know that America was built by big, strong men. Men like John Henry, Davy Crockett, Paul Bunyan. But you don’t have to be big in stature or strong in sinew to be a great man. That’s why this story is about a little guy who was just as integral to the building of our nation as the men who swung hammers and shot rifles.
He was born John Chapman and he was a farmer. Just a humble farmer who worked on his family’s apple orchard. Johnny, as his friends called him, genuinly enjoyed his work. Planting, harvesting and tending his apple trees. It may not have been impressive or glamorous like some vocations, but Johnny always felt that everyone had something they were good at and the best thing was to do it as best you could…
At least, that’s what he thought for a while.
For, you see, while John was working at his apple trees, the big push west was on and every day more and more pioneers would pass his farm on their way to tame the wild frontier. Somehow, compared to what those men were doing, Johnny’s apple trees didn’t seem all that important. He would’ve loved to be a pioneer too and help America grow…but Johnny was a small, puny sort of guy, and he knew that only big, strong men survived out west.
One night, however, while Johnny was cooking his humble, evening meal, he had a visitor. An older man with a thick beard and a coonskin cap walked up and asked to share his meal. Johnny figured this man must be a pioneer, stopping for a rest on his way out west, so he was more than happy to welcome the old fellow. Of course, Johnny had no idea that he was really an angel, who had come down from heaven to send Johnny on his path.
“It must be exciting,” Johnny said, “going west with the pioneers.”
“Why don’t you see for yourself?” the angel replied.
“Me? Oh, no, I couldn’t go west. That’s for big strong men with guns and muscles. Besides, what could I do to help? I can’t chop down trees, I can’t hunt, I can’t build anything. All I can do is plant apple trees.”
“I think you’re selling yourself short,” said the angel with a kind smile. “There are lots of men going west to chop and hunt and build. But men need more than meat to live. Who knows? Maybe what the pioneers need more than anything else right now is a man to plant apple trees.”
“I hadn’t thought of it like that. Do you really think I could?”
“Sure. You wouldn’t need to bring much. Here. Let me help.” The angel picked up a big bag of apple seeds, and slung it over Johnny’s shoulder. Then he took an old tin pot and told Johnny to wear it on his head like a hat. “Protect yoru head and you can cook with it!” he said. The last thing he handed Johnny was his Bible. “There. You’re all set.”
And that’s how, without truly understanding why or how, John Chapman became a pioneer and headed west that very night. When he turned around to thank the old man who had helped him, however, he found his guest had vanished.
From then on, Johnny traveled west. Everywhere he went he would find open areas of land and plant apple trees there. He left apple orchards behind him like footprints. They would grow and blossom and sprout fresh, delicious apples which the settlers would eat as they headed out west. It seemed like everywhere they went, there were apple trees waiting for them. And it would remind them of their homes in the east where they could pluck fresh fruit right off the trees, unlike in the wilderness where such trees were rare.
As Johnny traveled so did the stories about him. Everyone knew someone had to be planting these trees. Some thought it wsa an angel or some other magical, powerful being. They might’ve laughed if they’d known it was just a skinny, scrawny little man with a bag of seed over his shoulder and a pot on his head. But that’s how the legends about him grew, and how he came to be known as “Johnny Appleseed.”
For years and years, Johnny shared his bounty with the pioneers, never stopping, always traveling. Until one day, he was resting under one of his trees, when a familiar voice came to him: “Hello, Johnny. I see you’ve been busy.” Johnny looked up and there was the same old man who had convinced him to go west all those years ago. “I’ve got a job for you, Johnny,” the angel said. “I know a place that’s in dire need of your help. A wonderful place, really, but they’re missing one important thing.”
“What’s that?” asked Johnny, who was a little surprised to hear how old and raspy his voice had become. Living in the wilderness, Johnny hadn’t spoken to someone for a long time. He hadn’t noticed how much he had aged.
“Apples, Johnny,” said the angel, sharing that kind smile again. “Not nearly enough apples. Will you help?”
“Of course I will. Lead the way.”
And that’s how Johnny Appleseed left this world and followed his guardian angel into the next. But you can still see his work. Sometimes, you may look up at the sky and see the clouds all fluffy and pink. Well, those aren’t really clouds: They’re apple blossoms from Johnny’s heavenly apple orchard.
If You Liked This Story, You Might Enjoy:
Melody Time (1948) In this musical rendition of John Chapman’s story, popular Irish tenor Dennis Day provides the voices of Johnny, his angel, and the narrator. The short includes a song entitled “The Lord is Good To Me” which recently was featured in an episode of TV’s American Dad by a character who idolized Johnny Appleseed.
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