Crowder Peas and Heirlooms

Remember back in church when they used to tell us to pray for the shut-ins? Well, that’s exactly what I’ve become. A shut-in.

A lot of people have become that way since this coronavirus thing started, millions have been stuck inside. And it’s the little things we’ve lost that hurt the most. Things like baseball.

I could have endured this quarantine if I would have had baseball. But it’s the fourth official day of summer and baseball is still in limbo. Summer without baseball isn’t summer.

We lost more than just baseball. We lost eating at restaurants where waiters don’t dress like masked ninjas. We lost the pleasure of meandering in the grocery store without feeling like you’re racing toward the last chopper out of Saigon.

Yesterday, I saw my neighbor in Publix, wearing a surgical mask. I waved at him, but he didn’t see me. He was busy sprinting for the door while disinfecting his hands with isopropyl alcohol.

Right now, my wife and I are on a leisurely drive because I had to get out of the house. Nobody tells you how hard it is to be stuck indoors. If I would have known how difficult it was, I would have prayed harder for the shut-ins.

So we’re riding dirt roads. Hank Williams plays on our radio. I don’t know what we’re looking for, but I’ll know it when I see it.

And there it is.

A painted sign on a red-clay road that reads: “tomatoes.” I feel a thrill beneath my ribs. I haven’t felt this good in 109 days. Our vehicle splashes through mud puddles. Hank Williams sings another chorus of “Dear John.”

After a few hours of following cow paths through a Floridian wilderness, passing trailer homes, swamps, creeks, and horse pastures, we find it. A vegetable shack in the distance, tucked among live oaks and magnolias.

An old man with a white beard is seated on an overturned bucket, swatting flies. “How’re y’all?” he says. “Just picked the okree this morning.”

When a guy calls it “okree” you know you’re among family.

He also sells creamer peas, crowder peas, zipper peas, Silver Queen corn, and—hallelujah—homegrown heirlooms. Not the red aberrations you get in the supermarket that taste like U.S. parcel. These are real ‘maters.

He has a hanging scale dangling from his rafters, the kind used in grocery stores long ago. The ones from the days when you would visit the supermarket with your mother, still wearing your Little League uniform, and the butcher always had a butterscotch Dum Dum for you in his pocket.

I buy two five-gallon buckets of tomatoes and lots of veggies. The old man only charges me a pittance. Country people aren’t greedy.

On the way home, my wife and I strike gold again. We see a large roadside stand selling white peaches. We pull over and fill our trunk.

The cash register is manned by three children. Two 12-year-old twin girls and their 6-year-old brother. They are wearing surgical masks and selling lemonade. The girls try to sell me some.

“No thanks,” I say.

“Please?” says the 6-year-old. “It’s for a good cause.”

“Really? What cause?” I ask.

Silence.

I give them a buck, but I skip the lemonade. I will never in my long-legged life drink from another lemonade stand. A few years ago I bought some lemonade from a bunch of Cub Scouts in Virginia. One kid had a runny nose. The heathen wiped his snotty face with his bare hands, then dipped his whole arm into the pitcher and stirred it.

After that, I made a solemn oath to never drink lemonade prepared by anyone under 30.

We drive onward. We roll across backroads that I haven’t seen in years. I pull over at a place where the blackberries grow wild. This is a spot my wife and I used to visit all the time when we were dating. We used to pick berries in the ditches because they were free. I don’t know why we quit coming.

We have the entire ditch to ourselves this afternoon. Soon, we are in the open sun, picking dewberries, using our T-shirts as makeshift baskets.

And life is beginning to feel normal again. Since COVID-19, the Great American Summer began disappearing before it even started. It is almost Fourth of July right now, and where has the year gone? God help us come Christmas.

The national parks closed. Supermarkets sell hazmat suits. Family reunions were cancelled. Baseball became a myth. Some places are open. Others aren’t. It’s hit and miss. In some towns it’s hell on earth. In other spots, people are dancing the rhumba on the beach. There is no logic to it.

The worst part is, there is nothing anyone can do about it.

When we get home, I open our windows and let a summer breeze fill our den. The kitchen windowsill is littered with ripe tomatoes. My wife is making a blackberry cobbler. I hear the sound of a distant lawnmower fill the air.

I know I shouldn’t, but something makes me turn on the television to catch the nightly news.

“Breaking news,” the newscaster says. “Major League Baseball is returning…”

Baseball. My God. Can it be true? It’s enough to make a grown man cry. I sit on my sofa, place my head into my hands, and I weep a little because it’s been a long spring for us all. But thank heaven, summer is here.

Don’t forget to pray for the shut-ins.

33 comments

  1. Robert M Brenner - June 25, 2020 9:07 am

    Outstanding! Baseball is back and tomato sandwiches are too! If you’ve never tried them buy some “Cherokee Purple” tomatoes, they aren’t beautiful on the outside but they are good! Life is good, baseball and tomato sandwiches! It’s definitely summer!! ⚾️ 🍅 😊

    Reply
  2. Kim Havas - June 25, 2020 9:58 am

    🎶🎶🎶Well beat the drum & hold the phone, the sun came out today……🎶🎶🎶
    Feeling…better!

    Reply
  3. Melanie Levy - June 25, 2020 10:57 am

    Thank you, sean, for being real…I love tomatoes, blackberries and silver queen corn….and your stories.

    Reply
  4. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack - June 25, 2020 11:10 am

    Sean, it seems like you had a very good day, for a shut-in.

    Reply
  5. Grace - June 25, 2020 11:25 am

    Many truths here.

    Reply
  6. Jan - June 25, 2020 12:06 pm

    You captured the feelings, the thoughts, the insecurity and the whole sense of living a life without any familiar touchstones to hold on to. Then you found them and it was like coming home to everything you loved and needed … Beautiful story!

    Reply
  7. cronkitesue - June 25, 2020 12:10 pm

    Shell them crowder peas.

    Reply
  8. Susan - June 25, 2020 12:48 pm

    PLEASE tell me where we can buy Cream peas, crowders, heirlooms etc bear Miramar Beach!!! We moved here from GA and are craving South Ga veggies!

    Reply
  9. Margaret - June 25, 2020 12:56 pm

    Hallelujah! …and amen!

    Reply
  10. aleathia nicholson - June 25, 2020 1:05 pm

    Pray for the shut-ins and the snotty runny nose children who hang out on red dirt roads expecting strangers to buy their warm lemonade. I haven’t seen real red dirt since I left North Carolina, especially in my grandmama’s yard in East Spencer outside of Salisbury before they paved the street…not the yard! You know better!!

    Reply
  11. Teresa Tindle - June 25, 2020 1:31 pm

    Oh Sean, your story hits me so close to home. I’m a shut-in. Lord what I would give to take a long drive through the backroads of Alabama. Find a food side market run by grandma and grandpa. Good tomatoes for mater sandwiches. Green tomatoes and Korea for frying. Hmm hmm. And the blackberries. Goodness how that takes me home. Picking em down in the pasture with mama and my cousins. BlackBerry cobbles. So good. Memories so sweet. Say a special prayer for me. For me it’s only a dream. But what a dream.

    Reply
  12. Sal - June 25, 2020 1:46 pm

    This COVID lock down experience has made me more empathetic for those living alone and those who are shut-in due to health and also those who are incarcerated !!!! Your post today was great!

    Reply
  13. Tracey - June 25, 2020 1:50 pm

    Thank you for your words…they are so good for the soul and especially needed these days.

    Reply
  14. Harriet - June 25, 2020 2:02 pm

    I like your story and every comment on this page. I wish there was a like button in WordPress. ⚾️⚾️⚾️⚾️⚾️⚾️⚾️⚾️⚾️⚾️⚾️⚾️⚾️⚾️⚾️⚾️🍅🍅🍅🍅🍅🍅🍅🍑🍑🍑🍑YES!!!

    Reply
  15. Barbara Pope - June 25, 2020 2:03 pm

    Took me back to Brewton 60 years ago enjoying the best Southern cooked veggies never to be replicated–ashamed of how we whined and complained shelling those wonder peas and butterbeans. Would love to be able to sit in that circle once again in 95 degree weather complaining every breath–RIP mama!

    Reply
  16. Meloney Ashworth - June 25, 2020 2:15 pm

    Oh Sean, we can truly relate. We don’t have to worry about the vegetables because my Best Friend and her Husband have a farm (Bouler Farms) and we get homegrown vegetables from them, also a Mr. Cox here in Mobile.
    However, our Cousins Day and Leonard Family Reunion has been cancelled for the first time since the 30s and we are heartbroken.
    Summer just won’t be the same without our reunion.
    I’m glad that Baseball will be starting back.
    Meloney

    Reply
  17. Ala Red Clay Girl - June 25, 2020 3:07 pm

    Good one, Sean! Life is Good!

    Reply
  18. Brenda - June 25, 2020 3:14 pm

    Wow what a wonderful day! Your beautiful warming story reminded me of my summer days in Chester County Pennsylvania that I miss. The roads trips are the best. Finding all the wonderful things that you mentioned make ones heart sing! I’m so glad you had a great day and get to enjoy it by the mouthful! 😉

    Reply
  19. Linda Moon - June 25, 2020 3:56 pm

    Leisurely drives are just about as good as long road trips. One takes a few hours and the other can turn into a few weeks. I didn’t hear the news about Major League Baseball’s return, so I’ll pay more attention to the good news and tune out or turn off the bad news. I can do something about that while I’m shut in! Your backroad trip sounded adventurous, so remember this when you take another one: The difference in an ordeal and an adventure is your attitude!

    Reply
  20. AUTigrr - June 25, 2020 5:33 pm

    Play Ball!

    Reply
  21. MAM - June 25, 2020 6:15 pm

    I, too, feel like a shut-in, and I’m of an age that I could be. Except I’m a forced shut-in, not a sick or really old one. I went out yesterday for a news photo opportunity, and it felt GREAT to actually talk to folks, although I didn’t recognize half of them because of all the masks. Enjoy baseball, and I cried with you, and then chuckled at the last line. You’re writing is always good for the soul!

    Reply
  22. Donna Oldford - June 25, 2020 6:24 pm

    Love this column! What I miss the most about the southeast is the Gulf of Mexico, that cerulean bathtub, but also butterbeans and cream peas with snap beans. They are not available here, although you can order canned cream peas (a sorry substitute) from Amazon. They come in an entire case. You can order Duke’s Mayo there, too and everyone knows you cannot make deviled eggs or pimiento and cheese without Duke’s Mayo. We do have blackberries, beautiful plump ones in abundance growing wild along creek beds, and I make Lee Bailey’s recipe for blackberry cobbler every chance I get. And we have tomatoes, but much later in the season. They all come in at once, usually days before you leave for two or three weeks in Europe. We won’t have that problem this year, all of us being “shut-ins.” And at least we will have some sorry substitute for baseball.

    Reply
  23. Becky Souders - June 25, 2020 7:12 pm

    Okay, being a “northerner,” I had to look up Crowder peas. This was a nice column that made me craving those farm-fresh veggies from days past. Living the northwest, we have roadside produce stands up the ying yang, so I’m not deprived.
    Gone now almost 6 years, my fine gardening husband always said the best corn on the cob was when you could boil the water between the rows in the garden and then pick and plop. “Can’t get any sweeter than that,” he said.

    I take issue with “little things we’ve lost…like baseball.” Baseball is no little thing. Sympathies there, friend.

    Reply
  24. Helen De Prima - June 25, 2020 9:11 pm

    You articulate so much I’m unable to put into words. Thank you.

    Reply
  25. jane davis - June 26, 2020 12:25 am

    I grew up in the town you described. Much like other little southern beaus and belles. Eating those juicy maters without washing them, warm from the vine, juice elbow deep. Or in a sandwich with that sinful white bread so soft you could use it for a pillow, and plenty of BAMA Mayo- I didn’t know about dukes until we moved to Charleston, in my defense of ignorance. Peach chasers with juice this time to the armpits and down our shirts. I even picked okree and saw it fried in cornmeal batter with a few dark crunchy pieces to fight over with my brother or cousins. I’m a die hard cobbler fan as well- my mama made one out of any fruit she found in the yard or woods. Peach was her crowning glory. Clouds of fluffy sweet juicy whatever it was, which had a golden buttery crispy crust on top, generously sprinkled with sugar. Close seconds were cherry and blackberry. As for the tomatoes…it wasn’t heirlooms that made us cry with delight- my mother grew the reddest juiciest sweetest tomatoes I’ve ever put in my mouth. We didn’t have video games…and had only 3 TV channels made clearer with rabbit ears with aluminum foil wrapped tops. Rather than sit inside and wish for entertainment, we went to the fields to pick those peas you mention. All of them. And when we got home, we shelled them! I need to write about all of this sometime, as you did, minus the quarantine. I would give anything for a plate of red tomatoes and a salt shaker with a dab of dukes in the middle, followed by a hot bowl of peach cobbler with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream melting across the top. Man oh man…there’s nothin like the south…

    Reply
  26. Robert Chiles - June 26, 2020 1:06 am

    Reminds me of a vacation long ago on the way up north we stopped at the New River bridge in West Virginia and there were the best wild raspberries right below the bridge.

    Reply
  27. Chasity Davis Ritter - June 26, 2020 1:30 am

    I have a whole lot more to say like usual but I’m gonna just go with: Sounds like it was a really good day.

    Reply
  28. allisvant - June 26, 2020 1:42 am

    A cousin of mine put me onto your blog about a month ago; read ’em all since then & have gone back for older ones when I could; some have been more profound, some have evoked a tear or two, some have evoked smiles & even laughter, but none have hit on as many pleasures of life as this one – though in NW Ga., I’d sub purple hull peas for zipper peas; but okree, maters, & corn from the garden, and baseball are among my earliest & best memories! I was a Yankees & Mickey Mantle fan, until the Braves & Hank came south & then I split my allegiances. When I initially saw your name, I knew it was not for the first time; then I remembered that I’d seen it more than once in the blog of a mutual friend who shares many of the same talents as you; the NW Ga. native hint probably doesn’t require many guesses on your part, lol.

    Reply
  29. Ann Mills - June 26, 2020 2:11 am

    Amen! A REAL tomato, some crowder peas, cornbread, sweet tea and baseball! It’s enough to make you sing Jesus Loves Me!

    Reply
  30. Melanie - June 26, 2020 3:52 am

    And after you pray, take them some fresh berries and tomatoes ❤️

    Reply
  31. Sue Rhodus - June 26, 2020 1:26 pm

    I can’t top the comments previously made !! ” PLAY BALL!”

    Reply
  32. Dianne - June 26, 2020 7:22 pm

    I am really, really missing my Atlanta Braves!!!!! I feel like a little girl who is being punished for doing something bad!! Tonight we’re having fresh yellow squash casserole, crowder peas, fried okra with a green tomato cooked in it and corn bread smothered in butter. Can’t wait!

    Reply
  33. MEG - June 30, 2020 5:03 am

    Lewis Grizzard wrote a beautiful piece using the same lines…..Praying for the shut-ins……I kept it where I would read it every day and pray for the shut-ins I knew.

    Reply

Leave a Comment