Somewhere near Eclectic. A small A-frame cabin in the chlorophyll-choked woods of Alabama on Lake Martin.
I awoke on America’s 246th birthday. I was lying in a single bed, nestled in an all-wood room with piney walls. The walls were adorned in fishing tackle, and a singular mounted bass about the size of the late Sonny Liston.
I could hear the coffeemaker in the kitchen, gurgling its sunrise anthem.
I staggered out of bed and glanced out my window to greet the day.
The lake outside was the color of a mirror, upturned toward the sky. The pre-sunrise clouds were pink and gray, waiting for dawn.
There was a squirrel outside my window, staring at me with its little shark eyes. Eyes that were saying to me, “If circumstances were different, and if I were a lot bigger, I would eat you.”
I went to the bathroom to see a man about a dog. I played Wordle. I got it in five because I’m an idiot.
I stumbled into the kitchen. I stood before the Mr. Coffee machine, and my attention was diverted.
I saw them.
They were on the counter. Unassuming, little crimson tennis balls, stacked neatly in a pyramid. They looked supple and friendly. Because that’s how Peaches from Chilton County are supposed to look.
I picked one up. I held it in my hands and used my thumb to test its ripeness.
There’s a technique for checking a peach’s edibility. You use your thumb to apply the slightest amount of pressure. Like probing a fresh bruise.
You want the peach’s meat to give a little, but not too much. If your thumb makes a small dent, the peach is ready to eat. If you break your thumbnail, you might want to wait a few days to let it ripen.
This one was just right. Which is why I opted against coffee.
Since I was 9 years old, I have been drinking coffee every blessed morning. I come from evangelicals who were fueled by coffee and puritan moral disapproval. They drank their Folgers weak and black so they could sip it all day long.
Today, however, I got my caffeine from another source.
I poured Milo’s tea into a tall, old-timey, green tinted Coca-Cola glass, filled with crushed ice. The golden sugary drink sloshed around, running over the brim. My cup ranneth all over the place.
I don’t know who Milo is, or where he comes from, but he deserves to be canonized in his own lifetime.
I left the kitchen with a peach in one hand and Milo’s in the other. I stepped outside into the daylight. The sun was hoisting itself over 40,000 acres that is Lake Martin.
Lake Martin is one of the top five cleanest and clearest lakes in the United States. It is like looking into glass. It is a lake so clear you can see all the Natural Light cans on the bottom.
I stared across the lake and I was thinking about my old man.
He’s been dead for most of my life, death by his own choosing. But he loved peaches. He could eat five or six in one sitting. He always said peaches were high in vitamin C, but he was full of beans. Peaches have less vitamin C than a fire hydrant.
I bit into my peach.
The fruit was soft. The skin was a little fuzzy. The flesh was tender without being mushy; somewhere between a new tomato and a ripe pear.
Nectar ran down my chin, dripping along my neck, flowing down the collar of my T-shirt, staining the white fabric. The taste was acidic but not bitter. Sweet but not cloying. Tart but not sharp.
And something primal took over within me. I ate another peach. Then another. And another.
Pretty soon, I had eaten four peaches. I washed down each bite with swigs of ice-cold Milo’s, a drink sweet enough to rot your molars, but refreshing enough to have its own waterpark in Orlando.
And as the sunlight peeked above the treeline, I heard the slaps of distant screen doors reverbing across the smooth lake on a Southern Fourth of July. I heard faraway happy conversations, bouncing off the water. An American flag next door whipped in the easy breeze.
The morning air was immaculate. Birds called to one another. Crickets were already complaining in unison about the heat.
Across the lake, I saw a young man preparing his fishing boat. I waved to him. He did not wave back. But his radio was playing “My Girl,” and I realized there is hope for America’s youth.
“You missed some good peaches,” I whispered to the sky.
And I hope someone heard me.