Steve Meador is the author of Throwing Percy from the Cherry Tree, a poetry book that was an entrant for a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He is widely published in online and print journals. He has been a real estate broker since the early 1980s and currently lives and practices in the Tampa, FL, area.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Road to Mulberry

East of Beulah’s fruit and vegetable stand, just before the big bend in the road that leads to Mulberry, Obie has parked his rust-scabbed flatbed truck a few feet off the shoulder, under the canopy of a clump of massive live oaks. I saw him there, leaning against the tail of the bed, talking with another man. Teetering on the bed’s edge were what appeared to be onions, the large sweet onions that grow at the perimeter of the strawberry fields. We call them Strawberry Onions. They are the best in the world, in my opinion. Better than Vidalia or Walla Walla or Texas 1015 or any of the others, and I have tried most. My mouth reacted and filled with saliva. I was no better than Pavlov’s dog.

I pulled over and discovered that Obie was selling turnips, not onions. “No good onions till spring,” he informed me. The other man, like Obie, in his mid-seventies, at least, looks me over good and says, “Where you from?” Obie says, “You leave this man alone! He is young enough to kick yo ass, Leroy.” They do some verbal jousting and Leroy turns his attention back to me and I tell him I am from the Lithia area. “So, you a money bags, right?” Obie tells Leroy it ain’t none of his damn business whether I am a money bags or not. They argue again, Leroy explaining that he is just being friendly. “So, you know the last road yonder,” he points westward to where I came from. “You take that to the dead end and turn left. I don’t remember the road name, but when you turn left you go to Jap Tucker Road and turn right. You know where I’m talking?”  I shook my head yes. He continued, “After you turn onto Jap Tucker you look left and there is a man, Able, he has a stand there. He has onions. Good onions. All the time. See, Obie, you old mule, I was just telling this man where to get onions.” 

Obie was taking swigs from a bottle, wrapped tightly inside a brown paperbag. Even from a few feet away I could smell the rum. At 9:30 in the morning. Leroy reached in the the drivers window of the car, lifts out a styrofoam cup, looks in it, blows out the dust and holds it in front of Obie. “Kiss my ass, Leroy!” Leroy says he just might, if he gets enough of that rum. Obie pours some into the cup. Leroy looks into the cup, “Cheap-ass! Give me a little more.” Obie does. A car goes by and honks. Obie slowly lifts his arm, with the bag in his hand, makes a wagging motion. Leroy nods, imperceptibly, like the driver could see a motion that small. “Who that?” Obie glares at him, “Dumb ass. No more for you. That was Beulah’s boy. How many times you seen and talked with that boy? You going blind. Old drunk.”   

The two of them stare at the treeline on the other side of the road, silent for the first time since I stopped. Leroy backs up, leans his rear against the side of his car, gulps down the last drink of rum. Obie reaches over and pours more into the cup. I grab a bunch of turnips, hand Obie four dollars. Leroy says, “Tell Able I’ll be by, directly.” Obie glances at him, “He ain’t got rum.” Leroy replies, “No, he be a gin man, but he got good onions. For sure.”