On Friday, Boy and I stopped at a fruit stand to buy a watermelon. That’s where we met Old Tex. When I got out of the car with my camera, I motioned for him to stay where he was. He was sitting in a chair behind the fruit and vegetables. I told him we wanted a watermelon and I wanted to take his picture. Immediately, he found his groove. He picked up two cucumbers and began to smile and wave them around for the camera. I kept saying, “No, No, put the cucumbers in your lap”. He ignored me so I photographed the waving of the produce.
As we talked, he told me that he had been selling produce on the road for thirty years. He is eighty-three years old. Now, he lives “where the rich people live”. With a lot of gesturing and explaining, he made me understand that he lives in a rather affluent part of town where he has to keep his produce trailer in the garage. I agreed that proved the status of his residence. He is a funny old guy in that special way that all very old men are. They are my favorite people, and I am certain he knew it. He’s old but he isn’t slow.
Old Tex had lots of fruits and vegetables, but he didn’t try to sell them to me. He was more interested in talking to Boy and to me. He was having fun. It gets mighty boring just sitting on the roadside waiting for customers. I knew that. Soon, his friend with whom I assumed he lives, rode up on a motorcycle. He told me that Old Tex calls himself, “Old Texas”. He did not want to give the man’s name to me. Never mind. Old Tex would do.
I don’t know what it is about old men. They always make themselves in charge. Perhaps that’s how they got to be old. Tex was no different. He instructed me to wait up while he fetched his leather vest from his truck for THE picture. I waited as instructed. Many years ago, as a social worker, I learned not to argue with old men. If they cannot be persuaded, walk away. Come back another day. While I waited, Tex put on his vest, adjusted his felt hat at a rakish angle, and signaled that he was ready. He posed and posed. I snapped and snapped. And, I smiled and smiled. What a beautiful man. I have known many old men, but I have rarely known one who was as classically beautiful as Tex.
Tex kept picking up a jar of honey. I thought he was trying to sell it to me so I said I’d take the honey. His eyes squinted a little more and said he’d paid fourteen dollars for that jar of honey. I realized that he eats it himself since the jar wasn’t completely full and the label was a bit worn. It was then that I noticed how absolutely dirty his hands were. I almost asked how in the world he kept himself and his clothes, right down to his sparkling white socks, so very clean. Boy liked the old man, and he was totally impressed by his dirty hands. Later, I realized he’d worn dirty gloves that day. He wouldn’t sell me the honey either.
After a lot of chatting and laughing, we got around to negotiating the purchase of the watermelon. I told Boy to pick out a melon. Tex started shaking his head and muttered off to his produce trailer. His assistant laughed and said he was going to get a good one for us. Now, I understand how to get a melon from a fruit vendor’s private stock. Get out of the car with a camera and a big grin.
There were nice looking watermelons on display. However, Tex didn’t think they were nice enough for Boy and me. They all looked the same to me. I guess Tex knows something about watermelons that I don’t know. All old farmers and ranchers think they know a good watermelon when they see one. Some old guys thump them and some evaluate their readiness by looking at the stem end. I didn’t ask Tex how he evaluated his own watermelons. Soon enough, he reappeared with a melon in his arms and a big smile on is face that said Boy and I were special customers that day.
When Tex approached Boy with the melon, he put his arm around him an grinned for a final photograph. I obliged. Tex knew very well what I was doing, and he approved. I gave him the eight dollars for the special melon. I had nine dollars in my pocket so I handed him the extra dollar and told him that he might as well take that one too since I couldn’t buy anything with a dollar anyway. He chuckled and took the dollar.
When I looked at the photographs, I was disappointed. I forgot to change the ISO setting on my camera. The photographs of Boy and Old Tex were very grainy because they were standing in the sunlight. Oh, Well. I can still see the smiles and remember the old man who sold watermelons on the roadside. I’d bet good money that Boy will remember too.
When we got home, Boy and Irma (the housekeeper) sliced the melon in half. We all stood around with a shared knife cutting chunks out of the heart. We ate almost half while we stood over it eating. That’s the only way to eat watermelon. It was a good melon too.