When pressed, cider maker will tell a tale or three
LUNENBURG >> Harvey Price is standing in the cellar of his barn. He is doing what he has been for nearly all 93 years of his life.
He is talking and working, and he's not stopping.
He's telling stories about the 1938 New England Hurricane. He soon reverts to talking about his 1928 Ford Model T truck. He dives into the story of how his father, Ralph, started calling his mother "Duckie."
He is also upset because of how much he thinks his dentist is upcharging him for a new set of teeth. He says he isn't going back. He could spend the $6,500 a better way.
"What else can I tell you?" he asks.
Agnes, 87, is standing in the door frame, perched up by her cane, knowing Harvey may never get back on topic.
She's had a front-row seat for this show for 66 years.
That show isn't just Harvey chatting, putting an arm around a visitor and lighting up the cellar.
Because in that cellar is where the apple cider is made, bottled and refrigerated.
"If you are from Lunenburg you know Harvey Price," said Jim Lattanzi, a Lunenburg resident and owner of Hollis Hills Farm. "I think everyone from Lunenburg drinks it."
The Price family has been making apple cider for the residents of Lunenburg since 1936.
In 1935, Ralph Price, a local farmer, purchased an apple cider press from Athol in hopes of providing a fall drink for the rural town. The following year, the family started selling the produce.
Harvey, a 13-year-old milk peddler for his father, helped his father by picking the apples after school and helping to make it. Ralph asked, so Harvey helped.
"He never yelled at me once," Harvey recalls. "If he told me to do something, I would. If he told me to not to do something, I wouldn't."
The Prices owned a farm and an orchard off Flat Hill Road at the time they began making cider.
Harvey says his father had the press at a pop-up stand on Elmwood Road up until 1941 when World War II began. The press bounced around for a decade before Ralph sold the farm to the Kimball family and bought land at 162 Highland St. in 1951.
The press, which was built in 1910, made its way to the cellar, and Harvey's voice has echoed off the hundreds of wooden apple crates littered throughout ever since.
"He made so much cider," Harvey says.
Two years later, in 1953, Agnes and Harvey built a home on his father's land. At that time, Harvey was embarking on a career in repairing televisions for local residents.
This is where Harvey developed the nickname of "Half-Price" because of the deals he would cut with customers. He says he developed that gracious side because of his father, who would still provide milk to those were in debt to him because he felt bad for their children.
"There was no guy like him," Harvey says. "... Honesty is remembered long after price is forgotten."
When the TV repair business was bustling, Harvey was often running around town putting up antennas and replacing tubes. It meant it was Agnes' job to help Ralph with making the cider.
"He called her his Irish daughter," Harvey says because of how much time the two spent together.
And as time passed and Ralph got old, Harvey can recall when he and Agnes began taking the reins.
He remembers one day when his father asked him to make a batch. Harvey had eight to 10 repair jobs that day. He raced around town and made it home by 6 p.m. He and Agnes stayed up until 2 a.m. making cider.
Ralph asked, so Harvey helped.
Shortly before Ralph passed away at the age of 80 on March 3, 1980, Ralph asked Harvey to continue making apple cider for the town. The son obliged and has kept his promise.
Bill Lakso, the president of the Lunenburg Historical Society, said he has been drinking the apple cider since he moved back to the town in 1976. He said the parallels between Ralph and Harvey are evident.
"His father was equally as colorful as Harvey is," Lakso said.
Jennifer Sanderson, a lifelong Lunenburg resident and the curator for the historical society, said she used to go to Harvey's home with her father and grandfather.
She said she wasn't all that interested about Harvey and her father babbling about cars, but she said each interaction with Harvey is a memorable one.
"He is a splash of local color," she said. "I hope he stays here for many more years. There are few and far between like him."
Sanderson said one of her favorite things about the cider is the Price family sells it on the honor system. The stand is out front of their home at 162 Highland St. and residents are encouraged to jam some money in the tin and grab either a gallon or half-gallon of the cider. Harvey says he sells hundreds of gallons each fall.
The Prices have had issues with people stealing cider. For instance, Harvey recalls a group of high school track runners who stole the cider more than 10 years ago. He says they never found the culprit at the time.
However, Harvey did a video series called "Half Price Stories" for Lunenburg Public Access Television last summer. An enlisted military veteran stationed in Hawaii saw the videos and the next time he was home, more than 10 years after the incident, brought $40 to 162 Highland St.
Agnes accepted only $20.
"I guess it weighed on his conscious," Harvey says.
But at this juncture, a few gallons or dollars going missing every once in awhile is not a concern.
"Money don't mean a God damn to me," he says. "Money is a pain in my arm."
Harvey has no plan of stopping any time soon. After Hauling wood out of his truck Wednesday, he says "nine times out of 10" he wakes up at 6:32 a.m. He is unsure why, but he said he has to be out of bed by 7 a.m.
"The hardest thing for me to do is nothing," he explains. "I go nuts if I just have to sit there. I got to be doing something all the time."
He and Agnes, along with neighborhood friends who pop in randomly through the day, make the apple cider about once every two weeks.
"Honestly, when the fall comes around, I make sure to stop by there, drop some money in the bin and grab some cider," Sanderson said. "That has been a fall tradition forever."
It's also a tradition that once fall hits, Agnes and Harvey will be searching town for the best apples.
Harvey says they mostly go to Dick's Market Garden in Lunenburg or Hollis Hills Farm in Fitchburg.
"He's a character," said Martha Lalancette, who works at Dick's. "He has a great sense of humor. He is just refreshing."
Harvey says he hopes one of his four children or one of his grandchildren will continue making the apple cider once he and Agnes have passed away, although a permanent plan for its future has not been made.
Harvey is now in another dark room with lots of stuff. He is a collector. As people pick up their cider, it's hard not to notice the three yellow school buses filled to the brim with stuff.
He says he can't count that high when trying to decipher how many cars he has. He is upfront that he didn't graduate high school.
He admits the dark room is a mess with little room to walk, but he has to show off the 1932 Ford that sits in there.
"Someday I am going to clean it out," Harvey says. "I'll do it when I retire."
Information from: The (Lowell, Mass.) Sun, http://www.lowellsun.com