The Harvest of Life Exchanging Itself
“May I help you?” – More busy in my voice than hurried. A woman points to a quart of peaches she's been studying. “Sure of herself.” I had been thinking, “She won't buy anything else.”
Such delicate fruit—one at a time they must be placed in the brown paper bags. I've gotten quick at it. Then the Standard: “Couple of those are pretty hard yet; Leave 'em out overnight in that bag, and they'll be ready to eat... Anything else?”
“No nothing more,” small shake of her head.
Late afternoon at The Farmer's Night Market in Scranton-- the intense bustle of of the early day over – with its frenzy of bills and change and bags; a new line of faces every sixty seconds, waiting to be waited on. Questions, peering, turning the fruit to see if one side's as good as the other, and it always is as the Michaels sell only premium fruit at their stand, where I've been “City Help” for two years.
“No, we won't have cider till after Labor Day when the Miltons come in.” Funny, I'm starting to sound like a farmer – even know the apples by their different tastes, appearances, and order of ripeness. There are summer apples, fall, and the winter keepers; and a smaller, rather homely variety, MacCowans, are the best for eating. I like Cortlands myself. They remind me of making pies with my mother – the smell of dough and apple skins – the little scavengers waiting for the cores
The customers have thinned now, scurrying like loaded pack mules – off to their trunks and station wagons. I can even read their minds! They're planning dinners, canning pickles! Roasting corn for cook-outs, planning novel ways to prepare the bounty. I know these things. I've been a customer for twenty years from mid-July till Thanksgiving.
Wiping my sweaty forearms on my jeans, I try to get rid of the prickly-itch of peach fuzz – small price to pay for the afternoons's sweetness. Then leaning back against some crates, I watch the edges of the canvas shelters flap – storm later? This place, I was thinking, not much changed from the markets a hundred years ago-- the gathering of life to exchange itself. We city folk – dependent, fume breathers and asphalt beaters. Machine-like, silly with wealth or lack; paying, playing, dining out – driving our bad-*** cars toward some goal – never enough – just to wait for old age on the steps of “check day” Not that farmers don't have their desperate years. Weather can't be trusted, and there's always the hosts of gnawers, crawlers, and rotters – the unexpected that comes with living things whether cows or turnips.
I've seen it here: life exchanging itself. The early yellows and greens of lettuce, squash, beans, and berries; ripening to August corn, tomatoes, and feathery bunches of dill. Then descent with cooler days to pears and apples, corn, and squash. Late September brings the Indian corn and pumpkins, cider, bushels of potatoes, frosted concord grapes, and zany gourds.
With the return of Standard Time, come the bare bulbs that light the stands of produce. At Ruth's the sign reads: “Order Your Capon Here.” There are hams and roasts and sausage for stuffing. The winter apples – “Stock up NOW!” Ideas for holiday decorations; recipes exchanged. Bushels and bushels for the canners! And, one farmer sells those branches, heavy with scarlet winter berries for the city doors... “We close the Wednesday before Thanksgiving” I always buy those berries.
Good-byes are brisk and sweet – cold breath steams the air. City and country marking their seasons – their lives by the market. The warm greetings of July, “So good to see you again!”
...Marking their lives. Our children grow so much between the markets. Generations exchange. This co-op started eighty years ago, 1939. For so long, it was the last and only, farmer-owned, open-air market in Pennsylvania.
Generations born; some pass or retire in the winter. Nancy never seems any older than her smile.
The vegetables always look the same – they're not. They are the children of last year's veggies. I suppose if I were to come here for the first time, I would think everything hereå has always been this way. And, perhaps, I wouldn't be so wrong. It really didn't seem so different or so long ago in late October when I first watched the farmers huddled around kerosene heaters in parkas, rubbing their hands together, drinking soup and coffee to warm them – stamping a little – pulling off their gloves, reluctant to handle the freezing change.
“Can I help ya?”
“Yes... Where's the best place to store potatoes for the winter?...I'll take that one...Yeah, You got it!”
Dust rose from the spuds, tumbling from the basket to paper bag, and I propped them in my red wagon on one side of my infant daughter. She was bundled in a plaid wool blanket and wedged between the corn and apples. Her cheeks were pink with cold in the midst of orange, red and yellow – the colors of life exchanging itself.
Okay, closer to prose and dated a bit-- around 1993. Published in ergo Magazine and this week on Facebook. Check in now and then. Ya never know. I share my thinking there.