The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

My Father Was A Vegetable Vender

By Grace Cash © 1987

Issue: March, 1987

Editor's Note... The following is one of a series of articles written by Grace Cash. She lives in Flowery Branch, Georgia.

My father was a tenant farmer most of his working life, but in summer time he became a vegetable vendor. He started vending vegetables in the 1920's, but he was still trying his hand at it during the Great Depression.

Gathering peas, lettuce, tomatoes, corn, red-and-green peppers, squash, watermelons, and cantaloupes was a delight. There were plentiful hands, some very young childs' hands, but we worked together. When the sun went down, we loaded the wagon bed, then sprinkled the produce with cool well water. Early the next morning, Papa would begin his ten-mile journey to the county seat.

I was ten when I went with Papa on one of his summer-selling adventures. He went knowing he might sell something, everything, or he might return with all we gathered painstakingly, hoping for a few dollars needed before the cotton came in later. Other farmers had the same idea. Competition was keen. Times were hard.

Even so, the trip was a thrill. I rode on the plank seat beside Papa, who flicked the mules' rumps now and then with his riding whip, so they not only stepped briskly, but frisked their tails. We passed large white farmhouses and some like our own, unpainted and looking very clean, yet barely spacious enough to accommodate a growing family. I thought all families were happy, and houses didn't much matter.

At journey's end, Papa stopped his wagon on an off-street, amid a clatter of automobiles, trucks and walking vendors, calling out their wares. He knew it was wasted time to stop his wagon on the elite upper-streets, where residents sent maids to shop at the general stores.

Papa wisely sought the ordinary people. Even so, a housewife might come to the wagon, take a look and turn away without a word. Pricing-down did little to make a sale, since a rejection meant the buyer was waiting for other wagons. In the factory village a housewife might buy a basket of vegetables, or she might select only a few pods of green pepper. Not much was sold at any one house. We started our return journey with our wagon loaded, the carefully gathered produce wilting from the hot July sun. "Hard times," Papa said, but I knew he was making excuses for the buyers' lack of simple good manners, when they tactlessly turned down his wares.

Looking back, that was the most memorable part of my journey. Papa knew, as well as I, living in town had "gone to their heads." They felt superior to produce vendors, and acted as though they believed there would always be farmers willing to practically give away the fruits of their labor. Yet Papa lived out his more than 86 years believing stoutly in the farm and the steadfast, old fashioned ways of rural life.