Little Apple Jackie – AJ for short – came to Franklin many years ago riding in a sack with a man named John Chapman. It might have been around 1806 but Apple Jackie can’t remember for sure.
Way back then, AJ was just a seed and Franklin wasn’t even an official town yet. AJ traveled miles and miles with John, and happy miles they were.
John Chapman was a businessman and a pioneer with a mission: To claim stakes in the new land – the western wilderness – stretching across Pennsylvania, into Ohio and down into West Virginia. AJ learned a lot from John Chapman. He was smart, a hard worker and a kind, generous soul.
AJ rode in the sack full of seeds slung over John’s shoulder as he walked barefoot all the way across Pennsylvania. From time to time, John would stop and say, “This is the perfect spot!” There, they would stay a while as he laid out a nursery for apple trees, fenced it in, then went to the claims office to register his stake. He would find a kind neighbor to watch over his nursery. Then, once everything was just right, he would move to the next perfect spot and begin again. He was planting apple seeds and so, he became know as Johnny Appleseed.
As you know, trees take a long time to grow. Johnny was a patient and dedicated sort of person. For years he circled back to each of his nurseries, tended the fences, made friends and helped anyone however he could. Then, as the trees got big enough, he would sell the trees to settlers and move a little farther to start again.
AJ was just a little seed riding along, watching everything Johnny did and listening to everything Johnny said. Johnny talked to the animals as easily as he talked to people. And he talked to his little trees and his seeds. Many times he would pull AJ out of a special pocket in his sack and say “I’m saving you for just the right place.” AJ would wiggle with excitement wondering where that right place might be.
Meanwhile, AJ learned many things from Johnny. He watched Johnny make good money from the sale of the tress that he had tended so well. Settlers then created orchards on their own land and the annual crop of apples served them well. With each sale, Johnny would then buy more seeds and seemed to always look for someone to help. If he saw anyone in need, he just had to do something to help them. He was tall and thin, his ragged clothes hung loose and he used his tin cooking pan as a hat. He never wore shoes – not even in the winter time.
AJ loved Johnny Appleseed as did any living being who ever met him. Once, in a new town along the way, a little boy dressed handsomely from head to toe, stared and stared at Johnny. He looked at Johnny’s bare feet. He looked at his ragged clothes. He looked at his funny hat. Finally, he looked Johnny in the eyes and tilted his head. “Doesn’t anybody love you?”
Johnny threw back his head and laughed as he stooped to meet the boys gaze. “Son, all I know is love. I see it everywhere I go. And then I plant seeds to be sure love grows.” And as AJ witnessed, love did grow wherever Johnny went.
One fine spring day, they stood on a high ridge known as Rattlesnake Point overlooking a beautiful valley, with French Creek meeting the Allegheny River below. “My, my, look at that!” Johnny said as he pulled Little Apple Jackie from the special pocket. “This is your valley, Little Apple Jackie! This is the place for you!” Then Johnny searched for exactly the spot to create his orchard, build his fences and make his claim.
As he gently placed the little seed Johnny said, “Here you will grow strong and tall. Here, Little AJ, you will grow roots and you will grow love.”
And that’s how Little Apple Jackie – AJ for short – came to Franklin – many, many years ago.