As I inspected plums at the farmer’s market, a truck full of produce drove slowly past me. In my peripheral vision I saw the driver lean out and look in my direction. I ignored him. Or at least I tried to until he said, “Hey, nice melons.”
I know I should have been offended, but the line confused me too much. Nobody has ever complimented my, er, melons. I really don’t have melons—at most I have Hachiya persimmons or maybe Comice pears. Peaches come to mind. As I compiled a list of more appropriate fruits with which the jerk could have objectified and degraded me, I realized that I was standing next to a melon farmer who was standing next to a gigantic pyramid of what were, in fact, nice melons.
“Thanks,” said the melon farmer.
“Ha,” I said, pretending that I knew what the truck driver meant all along.
It shows how much times have changed that I would immediately suspect sexual harassment at the farmer’s market instead of a joke, albeit a joke with double entendre. Shopping at the farmer’s market when you’re 32 differs from shopping at the farmer’s market when you’re 10. At that age I followed my mother as she made the rounds buying cucumbers, scallions, honeydew, cabbages, and our family’s favorite, corn. By mid-summer dedicated corn stalls appeared with truckloads of candy-sweet corn tumbling into wooden crates and covering the ground with a carpet of shed silk and pale green husks that grew thicker underfoot as the morning progressed.
One day I wore a dress to the market for some forgotten reason. We stopped by a corn vendor where a sandy-haired boy about my age sorted the ears. My mother asked him to bag some corn that she’d carefully chosen. He raised his head but didn’t seem to hear her. Instead, he saw me and cocked his head. Then he smiled shyly.
I felt overwhelmingly chaste in my dress and looked down at the corn. He bagged the corn for my mother and kept looking at me. I knew he was looking at me because I kept looking at him to see if he was still looking at me. Every time we made eye contact, he smiled again in that same, hesitating way. Even as we left and he crouched over the corn to help another customer, I saw him look over his shoulder at me to smile one last time.
Laura Ingalls Wilder books messed with my mind, because for years I thought that I wouldn’t mind churning butter and whitewashing barns. Never mind that nobody, with the exception of certain religious groups and employees of historical re-enactment tourist destinations, really does that anymore. I had once successfully pulled up water from a well in a bucket, I reasoned, I could do it again. Never mind that my farmer boy might eventually leave the farm to go into, say, international banking in Madrid. I believed that we would gallop on horses through prairie grasses with no other company but the wind and sun. Never mind that the scant remaining prairie lands in Illinois are secured in government-protected conservation parks where I’m sure that delusional girls on horses aren’t allowed to enter, much less gallop.
The truth is that I don’t even care for bending over. Weeding around my four tomato plants once wore me out after 30 seconds. My parsley plant fills me with resentment when it needs water. “Why are you so needy?” I’m tempted to ask. I don’t want to churn or whitewash, and if I got on a horse I’d fall off and wouldn’t be all that inclined to climb back on. Eventually I would have forced my farmer boy to go to the city in a reverse Green Acres (new series: Taupe Sidewalks), and he would wither in the noise of urban life even as I cooed over my fake orchid set on a plant stand at convenient waist level. No, it wouldn’t have worked out. It was best that my mom pay for her corn and take her chastely dressed daughter home, never to see the farmer boy again. My desire to live the rural life is as gone as my chastity.
Yet fresh sweet corn in the husk still revives memories of when I thought that the soil and I could bond. I appreciate those who love working the earth, but I’m thrilled that I can eat the fruits of farmers’ labors from a distance. Now and then I sometimes scan the faces of the farmers I visit, looking for a face roughly my age, with hair that might have darkened with adulthood into brown, and a smile that I’d find myself too timid to return. Even now, with a mature understanding of our differences and the problems that they could cause, I might give us a chance.
Just as long as his first words aren’t, “Hey, nice peaches.”
- Link du jour
- This is almost too obvious. Farmgirl Fare is a hugely entertaining blog about a California city girl who left urban life to start a farm in Missouri. Terrific pictures and great stories give a taste of farm life even to people who hate bending over.