Most people when they think of the Fourth of July may think of booming fireworks and backyard barbecues, maybe even a sweet and juicy slice of watermelon. I will always have the image of thousands of cherries blanketing Hipsley Mill Road and Jon Deutsch.
Back in the late nineties the only way we could keep up with the demand for sweet cherries was to shuttle “El Diablo” back and forth from our farm to Baughers Orchards in Westminster, MD. “El Diablo” was an old white F-250 pickup truck with black spots of spray paint covering up religious and political views of the previous owner. Its steady low rumble and palomino appearance earned it this name reminding one of the Wild West. “El Diablo” was the steady, reliable workhorse of our motley fleet of trucks dubbed the “Haul of Fame”.
1997 was a particularly good year for local sweet cherries. Some might call it a glut. I remember massive displays of the American flag constructed with blueberries and cherries at our wagon on Bradley Blvd. For this particular holiday we were planning on selling a lot of cherries. I mean a LOT.
All the women loved Jon Deutsch. He had just graduated from Winston Churchill and had worked his summers with Norman’s for a few years. His hair grazed his shoulders and he had a bronzed muscular physique. It almost wasn’t fair that someone could be so handsome and charming yet earnest as him. Jon was brilliant, athletic, talented, and one of the nicest people you ever met. It was impossible to be mad at Jon, even when he played a pivotal role in such a fiasco as this.
Farmers would be inspired by the challenge of how much could be stacked on the back of “El Diablo”. It was almost a competitive sport for them. We would tell our farmers “…if you can get it on there we’ll take it!” Baughers had a lot of cherries. They wanted to double our order. Even though it seemed impossible they would make it work. Jon felt okay with the task of carefully driving the cargo back to our farm before it was loaded although once the reality stared him in the face he began to get nervous.
It was said the truck looked like a teetering skyscraper as it slowly meandered its way down Route 97. The 45 minute drive stretched into an eternity of white knuckles on the steering wheel. As the farm’s wholesalers waved goodbye to Jon and wished him luck they placed bets on whether he would make it back or not without spilling. It is the gamblers that put there money on “not” that would be the only ones to make a profit that day.
Halfway back the police pulled Jon over. They couldn’t believe what they saw. In addition to the 7 foot tall stacks of cherries on two pallets resembling the twin towers, the cab was so packed with cherries you couldn’t open the glove box. Jon’s cool and sincere composure, however, must have reassured the police and sparked some sense of hope because rather than issuing him a citation they wished him luck and sent him on his way. The fact is, Jon did make it all the way back to our farm. Almost. Except for that one last turn into the driveway.
It was the day before the weekend of the 4th of July. Red and white cherries blanketed the road to a back drop of cornfields. We stood speechless watching as an occasional car would juice the cherries.
I was deeply saddened five years later when I received a call that Jon Deutsch had died in a car crash. He is missed, and there isn’t a 4th of July that goes by where I don’t think of him. I wish his family my most heartfelt regards and fondly recall the story of Jon, Diablo, and the Tower of Cherries.