Roadside Fruit Stands

By: Dennis Bates

Do you remember the days when you could buy local produce along the side of the road? Maybe in your part of the country you still can, but in Iowa, where I live, you see roadside stands less and less. You can still find pictures of Elvis on black velvet on one or two designated corners, but how many of those does a person really need? You can also find local produce in farmer’s markets which seem to be popping up more and more these days, but that’s not really the same as stopping along the road and buying something out of the open end of some stranger’s pickup truck, just because the guy had a friendly smile.


I can still see my dad thumping melons at a stand along the highway in Muscatine, Iowa, where the cantaloupe and watermelon were the sweetest of any I have ever tasted. Of course, my mother used to sit in the car giving directions. “Get a ripe one, make sure it sounds hollow, don’t take that one,” and so forth and so on. I often wondered why it was dad out there thumping the things if my mother was the expert on picking them out. I guess that’s just the way it was back then.


Still, I think my dad knew his place and actually kind of enjoyed the ritual because it was one of the times when we got into the car and went somewhere as a family. And it was fun. All the way home my brother and I would watch the melon roll around on the floor of the car beneath our feet, wondering if this one would be as juicy as the last one. Talk about anticipation! But watching it roll around was half the fun at least and somehow you could do that kind of thing when I was a kid without an iPod in each ear and a personal cell phone to send text messages to your friends telling them how bored you were.


The truth is we weren’t bored. We thought doing things like that with the family was how it was supposed to be, and the repetitive small tasks were not really small things at all. They were the big things, the things that were important, and the things we built the rest of our lives on. We even ate most of our meals together, as a family. And we didn’t have to go through the fast food drive in window to pick them up. We made them ourselves – at home.


There were no soccer moms back then, there were just moms, and we didn’t have to learn how to bond with our dads, we just did stuff with them all the time. Every Saturday morning my father and I went to a local bakery and picked out several dozen sweet rolls for the family breakfast. For the most part, we always picked out the same kinds every week, but it didn’t matter. The rolls were fresh and so was the experience week after week because I got to do it with my dad. I can still see him grin on the way home from the bakery as he said, “They must have just baked these. Man, they smell good.”


They sure did!


Maybe the biggest thing we could do today to rebuild our families is to concentrate more on the little things, like buying sweet rolls, making meals together and finding a roadside stand somewhere where we could pick out a fresh watermelon together. Just make sure you get a ripe one. You can tell if they’re ripe; they sound hollow when you thump them. My mom said so.

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