Friday, August 22, 2014

Dispatch: Down-east farm stand stand-off

The fat man's afraid someone's taking his food away, and it might be me.

It's a hot August Friday afternoon in down-east North Carolina farm country. The fat man and I arrive at the farm stand at the exact same moment. We are the only customers. He's 400 pounds if he's an ounce. His tender white skin has been sunburned, and there's neat lines where white skin leaves off and skin the color of a country ham begins. A huge red T-shirt tightly encases his massive torso.

The fat man wants tomatoes. He moves directly to the heirlooms, corralling the dun-colored granny who runs the farm stand.

Farm stand tomatoes, Pamlico County, NC (Photo: DPS)
"I wanna box of these," he says, pointing.

"Ah'm sorry, we don't sell 'em by the box," she says with a heavy aw-shucks down-east accent, bobbing her head apologetically.

I approach. The fat man places his body directly between me and the box of tomatoes. He opens a white plastic shopping bag and starts placing the magnificent, baroquely-shaped fruit in the bottom of the bag with loving gentleness. The granny helps him.

"Git 'em in the bag quick 'fore anybod' else git 'em," he mumbles, his back to me. I am amused. I want to tease.

"Ooh, what kind are these?" I ask the granny, pointing to another box of large, deep red tomatoes with skin striped a dark olive green and still warm from the sun. The fat man hadn't seen that box.

"That's a kind of German Johnson," says granny. Nearly obliterated by his bulk, she has to crane her skinny neck around the fat man to speak to me.  The fat man whirls around and sees the other box. There's a look of panic on his face. The intruder might get some tomatoes after all!

The fat man reaches across my body to the box of German Johnsons. He spreads his huge hands over the fruit like a priest blessing the heads of children. He wiggles his swollen fingers and strokes the smooth, ripe tomato skin.

"Ah," he sighs. "More."