Picture this: the sun is setting behind Pisgah Peak in Oak Glen. The pear and box elder leaves are holding the golden light and shaking it all around in the breeze for show. The chicken and the Tri-tip are being turned on the grill, with brush paint strokes of deep burgundy dripping into the fire. The fiddler and the bass player are testing their sound. The big doors of the 1880s Packing Shed roll open and young people adorn the dinner tables with salt shakers and linen. The ladies wear gingham dresses, white aprons and the young men thick cotton shirts, denim overalls, boots, a slouch hat here and there. The guests will soon be here, and you can feel a kind of pleasant urgency, a spice in the air that says, “the feast is about to begin.”
Why does the very thought of that old place, the 1880s Packing Shed, why — writing this right now — am I gritting my teeth and fighting back emotion? Well, partly, because that’s me. I’m an easy mark. Partly because I married my wife in that building, saw my children dancing in it, playing music in it, clearing tables, stacking wood, locking it up for the night. One of my sons, Samuel, always had the gift of conversation and we discovered him one evening, at eight years old, telling stories to the guests. My daughter Lizzy learned how to feed thousands of people, how to get a kitchen ready for work, when she was ten years old there. My brother Dennis’s grandchildren grew up in the old Packing Shed, pressing cider between home school lessons.
So, yes, all of us Rileys have a history with that building.
But it’s a lot older than we are. The Wilshire family built it, in the late 19th century, and added on to in the 1920s. It’s hard for us to even imagine the scale of the Oak Glen apple harvest in the first half of the 20th Century, or the amount of work it required, getting that crop to market. If you look at aerial photographs of Oak Glen in the 1930s, you see almost nothing but apple trees. The Old Wilshire Apple Packing Shed, and others like it, have seen a least five full generations of workers and guests — and I always have the sense you can feel history in a place that’s been the site of so much living. When I’m sitting on that porch, and the music starts, the clumsy, but accurate word I have for the feeling is “magic.”
But the other night, given the events in the world right now — big city mayors barking about masks and vaccines, churches abandoned, small children enduring story hour with drag queens — I looked at the young people getting ready to greet the guests and I thought, “no, this isn’t just magic. It’s good.”
It is very good. That’s why people cry when they leave the place, just like old Jim RileyTags: Dinners, family, Packing Shed
Categorised in: News
This post was written by Jim Riley