For Love of a Perfect Peach
It was a rare July afternoon, the kind we crave, sun-kissed with a Carolina blue sky that’s so bright it hurts your eyes, no humidity — just a breathtakingly beautiful day. It called for a ride in the old red Jeep, windows down.
It was 2002 and we’d just moved to the Sandhills a few months earlier. My husband was in Afghanistan, so there was plenty of time to explore back roads and discover the treasures at the farm stands along the way.
The peaches from the Sandhills are rumored to be among some of the finest in the country, and I was anxious to find out if it was true. Tyler, my lab, and constant companion in those days, jumped in the rear of the Jeep ready for a ride in search of the perfect peach.
The first farm stand I saw was on N.C. 211, just east of Seven Lakes. Not exactly the back road I was in search of, but this was the first stand to advertise “local peaches,” and there were dozens of peach baskets stacked inside the small lean-to. How could I resist?
The gravel cracked as I pulled the Jeep to the front of the stand.
“Hey hon, how ya doin’ today?” asked the proprietor, Jim “Slick” Gordon, an engaging guy with a wide smile and shiny bald head, hence the nickname.
We exchanged niceties as I picked up a produce bag and looked over the array of colorful vegetables sorted into bins. Talk moved quickly to the peaches.
He rattled off the names of the peaches in the baskets — sun prince, winblo, China pearl — more than I can remember and told me many customers ask for the varieties by name. Gee, as far as I knew they were all just peaches, but I was about to be given an education.
“So where are these from?” I asked, somewhat suspicious that they’d been smuggled up from Georgia since I did not see the prerequisite peach farm nearby.
“Oh, these are all local, mostly from up in Candor or over near Ellerbe,” he said.
I had no clue where on earth Ellerbe was and gave him a quiet humph.
Plucking a peach out of a basket he said, “This is a white peach. Ever have one of these, hon?”
“Ugh, no — never had one,” I answered, careful to not let on that I had also never heard of a white peach, but I suspect that old Slick already knew that.
“Wanna try one?” he asked as he perched the huge rosy-skinned fruit up onto his fingertips. “It’s a treat — a Georgia belle — it’s really swweeet,” he said rolling out the last word.
I agreed, figuring he’d hand me a peach to take along with me. Wrong.
Slick reaches up to a tiny makeshift shelf above him. It’s loaded with bug spray, an old soda can and a half-eaten sandwich wrapped up in paper towels, and a pocket knife — a really old pocket knife.
He flips it open to reveal a blade that is not exactly hermetically-sealed and cuts into that nice white peach then hands me a big ol’ slice on a paper towel.
Now I am thinking — what on earth am I going to do? I am faced with this nice guy offering me a beautiful, juicy-looking peach that I’d really like to sample, but I know I am going to die from whatever lived on that old knife. I hesitated.
“Go on now, hon, it’s good,” he insists, holding out half of the peach and popping the other half of it into his mouth.
I watched the juice slip down his chin and satisfaction spread across his lips.
OK, I think to myself, I’ll just be polite, put it in my mouth, jump into the car, wave bye and spit it out, quickly — when he’s not looking.
Realizing that tactic wouldn’t work and that I was being an ungrateful “spaz,” I threw all caution to the wind and popped it into my mouth.
Its flavor filled my mouth. It was just as he described, even better, given the leftovers from the old pocket knife.
Fragrant. Sweet. Sun-warmed. Juicy — a perfect peach. I bought the entire basket.
Later that night as I sat on the porch steps watching the moon rise over the lake, I shared another peach, this one with Tyler, and savored the memory of that very fine, first white peach.
Claudia Watson is a Pinehurst freelance writer and frequent contributor to The Pilot and Pinestraw magazine. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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