My family was hard at work chopping firewood in the forest that neighbored our farmhouse before the snow drifts of winter arrived. The forest canopy was gone as the last of the oak leaves had fallen and the cool winds of that September Saturday were assurance enough the summer was finally over. Three trucks were parked half loaded with split wood and in the distance the sound of the log splitter’s small engine filled the echoing air. The light smell of exhaust carried to our noses and the buzzing of chainsaws roared through the tree tops.
My grandmother watched while sitting on a tree stump. I grabbed one of our picnic snack bags and walked over to her. Sitting down beside her, I reached into the bag and pulled out a jumble and handed it to her. She quietly began eating the cookie and the two of us watched the family chopping away, making kindling. It was not long after that a hollowed mossy log in the distance caught my grandmother’s gaze.
“You know, I once heard a tale of a boy of mischief who stole from the Lenape people long ago,” she said as she took another bite of her jumble.
Nearly 20 years after William Donbridge had passed away, the small valley town he had started decided to name itself after its historic founder. And so, on the day of May 26, 1710, the town of Donbridge was officially founded. On the evening of this historical date, the medicine man of the Lenape people attended the namesake celebration and made an announcement of his own. At the apex of the celebration, the crowd went silent as a translator joined the medicine man and began to speak on behalf of the aging Lenape. He expressed to the crowd his appreciation for the continued peace between his people and the town. He spoke of the fact that this peace was rare between the newcomers and his people. The final point he made surprised the townsfolk, for none had known the dark secret he was about to share.
Over time, a thief had stolen the sacred Ohta Dolls of his people and ransacked many longhouses, stealing valuable furs and precious metals. The Lenape had tracked this person for miles on end but never found the thief’s whereabouts. Stealing from the Lenape people was a crime according to an agreement struck by Donbridge himself. The fact that someone would violate this law was unimaginable, as Donbridge made the punishment for breaking it harsh enough for all to follow and for the Lenape people to believe in; anyone who stole from them would have his hands removed. As violence and punishment were not part of the town’s history, it was a shock that anyone would ever refer to this law, especially the medicine man of the Lenape people. But the crime of this person marked the first time the law was violated and so punishment was inevitable.
Almost all people in the town of Donbridge were present for the celebration and so most everyone heard the Lenape’s words and pleas for help in finding the thief. As he was speaking, a man by the name of August Meeks, unknown to the current residents of the town, was lurking in the branches of the great oak tree that stood in the middle of the great valley of Donbridge. He watched and listened as the medicine man spoke, and all the while, he smirked from the safety of the tree.
August was the son of the medicine man’s daughter, and through her teachings he had learned how to cover his tracks and be invisible to all who sought him. After a conflict between his mother and grandfather many years earlier, August was left to fend for himself. Feeling distaste for these people, he stole from them and humiliated them by forcing the Lenape to ask the townfolk for help, something they had never done. The trinkets he stole he scattered in the forest, making sure that none were found. In some cases, he would carve an upside-down “A” on trees in the area where he left a treasure, but other times, he left no marks.
About a week after the celebration, August decided to pillage yet another longhouse. This time, he was surprised by a creature known as the Panderlaub, which appeared before him while he was stuffing gems into his pockets. The creature, known as a protector of the forest, roared out and soon every Lenape rushed to the longhouse. August darted from the structure and headed into the darkness of the woods. He could hear the rushing of the Lenape people’s feet close behind him. August panicked, tripped over a root, and slid down a slope, becoming lodged inside a hollow tree stump. Stuck inside, he heard the Lenape talking amongst themselves as they searched for him. One even sat upon the hollowed-out trunk he was inside of, but as close as they came, not a single Lenape found August that evening.
When my grandmother finished her story, she got up to explore the tree trunk she was looking at. I followed her. The trunk looked ordinary enough, and my grandmother looked all around it. The inside was hollow and nearby a slope adjoined the one end where it rested upon the ground. My grandmother smiled and walked back to where the family was sawing wood. Curious myself, I looked about the trunk of the tree, and there, near the base of the great log, a carved “A” rested upside down, nearly covered in moss.
1 cup shortening
1 cup milk
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup dried cherries
4 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup halved almonds
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9 x13 cake pans. Beat shortening, sugar and eggs together, then add rest of ingredients in and stir until well combined. Divide the dough between the pans and spread out in each pan. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until brown. Let cool, then cut into squares and enjoy.