The rural South looks good at six in the evening. The sun is low. The peanut fields are so green they’re blue. The grain silos are rusty.
We drive through Slocomb, home of the Tomato Festival. We pass through Tabernacle. I’ll bet they don’t get too worked up in Tabernacle.
And we arrive in Hartford. They tell me this is quite a town. The small community sits in the middle of the Fruited Plains, and it is quintessential Little America.
Nice-looking homes. Old churches. A boy walks on a sidewalk. His dog follows, off-leash.
The public library is a brick building which also serves as courthouse, community center, historical museum, and a reception hall for wedding parties.
I’m in town tonight to speak. I play guitar in a room that's roughly the size of a baptismal tank. I tell a few stories on a microphone.
I have no earthly idea what I’m doing.
Afterward, I am fortunate enough to shake hands with God’s finest people. They are walking-talking masterpieces from Ozark, Wicksburg, Clayhatchee, High Bluff, Bellwood, Earlytown,
Dundee, Malvern, Taylor, Circle City, Slocomb, and Fadette.
I meet a tomato farmer, a cotton farmer, a watermelon farmer, a corn farmer, a goat farmer, an ostrich farmer, a cattle farmer, a tractor mechanic, an twelve-year-old girl who raises show hogs and is strong enough to arm wrestle an adult male.
There is a woman with a walker. She is ninety, with flour-white hair. Martha Green is her name. She has large eyes that sparkle. She eats a cookie and tells me what FSU was like before it turned co-ed.
J.C. shakes my hand. He is a big man with mitts like frying pans, who shares my affection for poundcake.
There is Mandie: five-foot-tall, sweet, gives good hugs, doesn’t know strangers. And former Miss Slocomb gives me a full basket of tomatoes.
If I can find a saltshaker, these tomatoes won’t last ten…