Nelson’s Fruit Stand
My first job was as a preteen working in the fields maintained by the octogenarian couple that ran the organic produce stand just across the street from our house out in the country.
I remember being so nervous asking Mr. Nelson for a job that I could barely get the words out. He must have thought that was so cute.
I sorted produce, organized boxes, ran from field to field moving irrigation pipes, and got my first experience using an outhouse.
I don’t have many memories of Mr. Nelson, other than sitting behind him on a big farm tractor at an intersection waiting for traffic to clear. His head darting back and forth watching the cars fly by, he muttered a line from Tennyson: “Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them…”
After a pause, he observed, “Never have anything to do with war, boy. It’s a nasty business.” I have a pretty strong suspicion this was first-hand wisdom from bitter experience.
The fruit stand was a rough-hewn building, with “Watch your head” written in chalk as a warning on one of the lower roof beams towards the back.
“People kept hitting their heads. It used to say ‘duck,’ but then people were thinking we sold ducks, so we changed it,” Mr. Nelson told me.
His wife ran a local Good News Club for all the children in the neighborhood, which was a weekly Christian program for kids 5-12 years old featuring a Bible lesson, songs, memory verses, and games. We all thought it was good fun, and Mrs. Nelson baked yummy homemade cookies.
Another elderly neighbor down the road taught handwriting analysis classes for free to all the local boys and girls. She did it just to have some company, I think.
Many years later my wife and I were trying to grow vegetables organically at our little rented farmhouse and having a devil of a time with gophers, so I drove out to see my first boss, now in retirement but still gamely keeping a huge garden in his back yard.
“Gophers?” He ambled out to a utility shed and hefted a yellow box with an alarming black skull-and-bones symbol on it. “I use this. Works good.”
“But Mr. Nelson,” I protested. “I thought you were an organic farmer.”
He squinted up at me as if I were daft. “I don’t eat the gophers.”
Nelson’s Fruit Stand is now Bill’s Farm Basket in Sebastopol, CA. I stopped in there once and told them I’d worked there once upon a time, so they pulled out an ancient scrapbook full of photos from my era and we had fun reminiscing.