Decameron Tale #14: Human Nature at the Produce Stand

DECAMERON TALES #14     July 26, 2020

“Summertime and the livin’s easy”

I prefer to dwell on the bright side.  Sal has often remarked on my ability to discern the positive side of the situation.  It’s a gift! 

[Aside from Sally:  for those who don’t know Pete well – this is definitely a tongue-in-cheek view of my ‘glass-half-empty; husband!  Peter’s retort:  I’ll have you know that I am not a glass-half-empty husband.  I am a glass-entirely-empty-save-for-the-drool-in-the-bottom-of-the-glass husband!]

Specifically, the garden is coming in.  I enjoy gardening and we bought acreage across the street in part for that purpose.  Expensive tomatoes though.  Gardening has something in common with fishing.  While fishing allows an adult to loll around near the water doing absolutely nothing, gardening permits the freedom to muck about in the dirt like a three-year-old with no stigma.  We’ve always put in a plot much larger than our needs against the danger of a bad year.  We put the excess on a table roadside with a “Free Veggies” sign.

Our visitors exhibit some consistent behaviors when perusing our selection. It’s been an interesting experience and I’ll share my observations.

1. The produce must be absolutely perfect.  A forked carrot or a spotted tomato will languish on the table even if free. 

2. Every trace of soil must be removed.  The clean, perfect specimens in the supermarket have conditioned us well. 

3. If providing containers, don’t make them overly generous.  Large bags incite, in a small minority, the All You can Eat Buffet Syndrome. 

4. Most new customers are reluctant to stop if I’m out and about.  When caught unawares they are always abashed.  Once we’ve connected in person, however, they belly up to the bar with the best of them. 

5. Most people are so grateful, stopping by to thank us or offering homemade maple syrup, bread or chutney.  The shyer ones may leave cash. 

Sal perhaps expressed it best:  “Most people are good.”  I’ve come to look forward to these interactions.  When I initially had problems finding plants and seeds this spring, I became quite puckish.  My customers also have their expectations.  When I put out the stand prematurely, a number of cars stopped to peruse the empty stand.

Besides this heartwarming affirmation of humanity’s worth, there are other pleasant aspects of the produce stand.  It opens up a fascinating window into human nature. 

Last season, a very sharp black Porsche SUV stopped.  The driver, a fortyish male, was every bit as well turned out as his vehicle.  By this time of day, all of the tomatoes were gone, leaving only the squash.  He surveyed the summer squash for some time.  I assumed he was deciding which looked best.  He made his decision.  He would take all of them!  He gathered up the entire pile, dropping some as he walked to his car.  He would stoop to gather them up only to drop some more a few steps later.  I watched with growing amusement partially shielded by corn stalks.  My giggles became loud enough that he became aware of my presence.  In a deer-in-the-headlights moment, he dropped the entire bundle.  Instead of salvaging what he could carry, he hit upon a brilliant tactical move.  Still on his knees, he pitched two or three squash into his Porsche, expertly sailing them through the open driver’s-side window.  The remainder he gathered up and made his getaway.  Only later did I rue the fact that I didn’t clap.  He deserved an ovation.  It was brilliant.  He hasn’t been back since, no doubt offended by my lack of acclaim.

Gardening also allows me to nostalgically recapture some of the fondest memories of my childhood.  Soon the hornworms will appear on the tomatoes.  Three-inch long fat green caterpillars with a red horn on their rumps, a single one can savage a plant overnight.  They are also very velvety to the touch.  I learned about them as a very young child when a neighboring farmer planted tobacco.  He enlisted the local boys to pull the hornworms off his crop.  Provided with a coffee can partially filled with kerosene that hung around our necks, we had the time of our lives.  We had good natured competitions over who had the biggest or ugliest.  My sisters didn’t join I but I can’t recall if it was by choice or if we selfishly excluded them from the fun.  At the end of the day, we emptied the cans and set the mess alight.  While my sisters were reduced to nothing more boring than girl-scouty things like assembling S’Mores, we lounged around a campfire of smoldering caterpillars.  On occasion, I wonder if my sisters were somehow molded by their blighted childhoods.

Soon it begins again.  The hornworms are not easy to see against foliage and current wisdom is to use an ultraviolet black light and fluoresce them after dark.  Since it’s inevitable that an over-excitable neighbor would report such suspicious nocturnal goings on to the local gendarmes, I shall use the old-fashioned method.  Kerosene is not that common these days and I fear that turpentine will impart an overly aggressive bouquet.  Perhaps mineral spirits, the petroleum analog to canola oil.

Sal made a nice hand-painted sign announcing produce for the taking.  As yet, we haven’t disclosed that the vegetables are organic or cautioned takers about the inevitable invertebrates.  Another sign is in order:





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