The old men sat in the old-as-Moses fruit stand. It’s furnished with 1960s era arm chairs, boiled peanuts, and an assortment of fruits and veggies. Two of the men sat swapping pictures and swapping tales while the proprietor helped the couple in front of me. They elbowed their way in front of me, picked up string beans and threw them back into the carton. “These are dry. Won’t be any good.” The man said to his companion. He loudly said to the elderly proprietor,
“Where these tomatoes from? They local?”
They aren’t from around here I surmised. The couple, not the tomatoes.
The tomatoes were only sort of local. Alabama grown yes. Warrior, Alabama grown, no.
The proprietor offered an explanation, “They ain’t made it up this far yet.” The gruff talker did not respond, I nodded in understanding. It’s not time. The summer tomatoes grown in Blount County, Alabama, don’t begin to ripen en mass until the weeks following July 4th. It’s as if Independence Day itself heralds in those sweet juicy tomatoes. Perfect for slicing, dicing, making a sandwich with, or eating by themselves. If you have ever had one, you know. If you haven’t, I’m gonna pray for you. It’s like nothing else in this world. The finest of culinary expertise has yet to replicate the goodness of a July homegrown tomato.
They aren’t from around here I surmised.
As the gruff talker and his companion made their way to their car, arm full of I don’t know what and the customary free banana included with every purchase, I stepped up to the register. My attention was shifted to the matter at hand, I smiled as one of the Old Timers sitting showed the other his great-grandson. “Just look at that boy!” He was one proud grandpappy and the other was happy to oblige. They laughed at whatever antics had been captured in digital photographic documentation.
I asked the proprietor about the cost of his watermelons and then pointed to a dark green variety. Green is my favorite color, and I marveled at the richness and dark, almost black, shade of the ones to my left.
“Which ‘uns?” He asked me to clarify.
“What’s the difference in these?” I patted the dark green specimen and gestured toward the striped green ones.
He walked over toward me and he lovingly patted the dark green one, “ ‘Dis un is a sugar baby. It’s sorta sweet like.”
I told him to my knowledge I’ve not had one but I sure did love sweet. He giggled, and I asked if the chosen one he was patting was a good one. He laughed. The old timers behind him laughed, and he said one of the most profound things I’ve heard in all my life.
“It’s hard to know without seein’ inside ‘em and without eatin’’em”
I thought about that and giggled.
“I reckon that’s true for a lot things.” I said
I told him I’d take the patted sugar baby and he completed my sale. I had to enlist the teenage boy Martin to carry my watermelon.
At supper that night I cut it for dessert. I couldn’t wait until after my meal. That sugar baby was so sweet and so juicy. I ate more than a serving size with my supper. And more for dessert and then again for breakfast the next morning. The tomatoes might not have made it up this far yet but, by George, the watermelons had.
I thought more and pondered on what the Old Timer had told me. You really can’t know about the subject until you experience it for yourself. In the case of the watermelon, the fruit wouldn’t be demonstrated until it was put to the test, the test of supper that is. As a Believer I am like that sugar baby, I can look like a fine specimen of a Christian all day long, I can even call myself Christian, but until I produce sweet, beautiful fruit that declaration of faith isn’t demonstrated. The King once said that “you will know them by their fruit.” (Matthew 7:16) And in the case of that sugar baby it’s when we are put to the test that our fruit is at its sweetest.