Cover image for A taste of the sweet apple : a memoir
A taste of the sweet apple : a memoir
Watson, Jo Anna Holt, 1935-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Louisville, Ky. : Sarabande Books, [2004]

Physical Description:
232 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
CT275.H645533 A3 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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[A] quirky memoir, without the sentimentality and insistence that drives so many personal accounts. Holt Watson has a deeply moving story to tell, with fully realized characters set loose in a specific world and time. And she has a distinctly humorous voice. I'm partial to any writer who can come up with a walleyed laundress and a prize bull named Big Business, in a place called Heaven's Little Footstool. This is a wonderful book.-Bobbie Ann Mason Jo Anna "Pee-Wee" Holt Watson's voice is so vivid that the reader is transported to a vanished rural culture: mid-20th century Kentucky. This memoir documents one summer, her seventh, at Grassy Springs Farm in the Bluegrass region of Woodford County. At the center of the book is a poetic and telling bond, an adoring friendship between this small white girl and a black foreman, Joe Collins. There's a tempestuous country-physician father, a beautiful, powerful mother in powerless times and the "wonderfully long-winded" Aunt Sudie Louisa. We witness the travail of hired laborers as well as the beauties of craft and devotion in Holt Watson's sharp rendering of traditional tobacco culture. Here is a world of shadowy lanes, granddaddy's ice-cold artesian well, tobacco stripping rooms, a girl's pony barn, Ginnie Rae's Beauty Shoppe on Main Street and Ocean Frog's Grocery. Brimming with unsentimental innocence, she draws a tough-minded, tomboy--accomplished portrait of girlhood. In the rural tradition, Holt Watson is a conjuror of tales both hilarious and moving, mixed with temper and spirit. Jo Anna "Pee-Wee" Holt-Watson is a fourth-generation Kentuckian and self-proclaimed Yellow Dog Democrat. She is an amateur photographer, gardener, avid sports-person, former horse trials judge, and creator of Plumbline, a series of televised panel discussions regarding critical political and social issues. She currently lives in Louisville, Kentucky.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

From its opening scene in a snowy pasture in 1942, this memoir of a Kentucky farm is packed with tales, tobacco, and tenderness. Holt Watson, nicknamed Pig because she loved trouble like a hog loves slops, is a six-year-old tomboy who idolizes Joe Collins, the foreman of the family's tobacco farm. The older man is happy to share his knowledge with the precocious child, teaching Pig to drive a tractor, set crops, butcher hogs, and spit tobacco. Although the book features a host of eccentrics--including Doc, Pig's brooding, physican father; proper, bridge-playing Sallie Gay, who despairs of her daughter's rambunctious ways; a shopkeeper named Ocean Frog; and an old mare called Hot Flash--Holt Watson does more than record quirky characters. She captures Woodford County, or Heaven's Little Footstool, at a particular moment in time, and her memoir, which covers a five-year period, is vivid without lapsing into sentimentality. And through it all, Joe Collins is there, steady as the sun in this child's universe. An excellent inaugural title in the Woodford Reserve Series in Kentucky Literature. --Rebecca Maksel Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Despite some uneven writing and wandering storytelling, this memoir is frequently touching and laugh-out-loud funny. The titular "sweet apple" refers to chewing tobacco, which a six-year-old Watson yearned for when she was a hell-raising tomboy on her father's Kentucky tobacco farm in the summer of 1942. She adored farm manager Joe Collins, who taught her how to test the soil by eating it, plant seedlings from a tobacco setter, chew tobacco and spit. He rescued her when she was stranded in a tree house and put out the fire when, in a rage, she shoved matches between her buck teeth and lit them. Watson inherited her temper from her father and grandfather, who were both prone to intermittent rages. Although Watson's parents loved her and each other, "we just never knew when things might come to a boil," and when life at home got dangerous, it was Joe Collins and Eva Belle, the cook, to whom Watson ran. The strongest aftertaste from this rhapsody about life on a Woodford County tobacco farm, with its horses, blooming crabapple tree, timeless summer and ubiquitous cigars, cigarettes and chewing tobacco, is of the heartfelt, old-fashioned loyalty of the hired help, and Watson's gratitude to them for holding things together when her family threatened to fall apart. Agent, Nancy Green Media. (Nov. 15) Forecast: This memoir has regional appeal and will satisfy readers interested in the history of Kentucky and tobacco farming. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In 1940s rural Kentucky, seven-year-old Jo Anna Holt is called Pig because she roots where she had no business. When not in school, this small white girl hangs out with her friend, Joe Collins, the black foreman who oversees her family's tobacco farm. She helps with the planting, rides the tractor, and takes to school the type of lunch and lunchbox that the field hands carry. A tough and curious tomboy, she is reckless like her doctor father; and while she lacks the beauty and refinement of her mother, she displays a delicacy of feeling in her writing. Watson describes the workings of the farm so clearly that you can smell the tobacco leaves and taste the richness of the soil. She lovingly conveys the travails of her family, whether caused by her father's temper or by her cousin Dot's disruptions. Her re-creation of an earlier era in the racially charged rural South sets a high standard as the first in a new series of Kentucky literature. Recommended for public and academic libraries.--Gina Kaiser, Univ. of the Sciences, Philadelphia (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.