Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog


The Hillbilly Big Chill: Hour 2

Food and Family

My 60-year-old brother took an early retirement buyout this year but never is without a work project.  He spent the last two weeks painting and repairing an inexpensive rental house he owns in nearby Greenwood.  We had to stop at the hardware store for him to exchange a small brass pipe for one in the proper size so he could install a new dishwasher.  The opportunity costs of my living in California include all the money I would have saved if I had stayed close to the family handyman, car mechanic, and small-engine repair man, not to mention his wife, a smart nurse practicioner with prescription-writing privileges.  He found the brass pipe quickly but we waited in the front of the store a long time; a man called out, “But up to help you in a minute.”  By the time the guy got there a less-patient, less-Midwestern customer would have either stormed out in frustration or lifted a number of items.  

We stopped at a farm stand for big red tomatoes and a dozen ears of corn–the best thing about living in or visiting Indiana in the humid summer.  The peaches came from South Carolina.  My brother said they’d ripen more and  smell great in a day or so.  They were yellow and hard but looked as if they had cellulite.   To be fair, there’s a local farmers’ market on Saturdays, but my weekly, year-round visits to “certified” California farmers’ markets made me critical.  Just last week back home the peaches were as much as a dollar cheaper.  

The man at the counter looked to be about 60.  He added up our purchases in the corner of a spiral notebook.  My brother asked if he had any cantaloupe from down in Vincennes (at Indiana’s southern border).  “All out.”  Too much rain has made it a small crop.  “Blackberries?”  “All gone.”  I saw a box of green beans with “home grown $1.50/lb” handwritten on the cardboard flap.  This is the third great thing about Indiana summers.  Mmm.  I asked, as I do at most market stalls, “Do you use any spays on your green beans…pesticides?”  He stared at me blankly for a long moment.  “I have no idea.  They just bring them up to me.  But I don’t think you’d get very many if you didn’t spray them with something, with bugs and animals eating them.”  I wanted to say, “Well, it doesn’t seem to be a problem back in California.”  

At home my brother shucked the corn out on the patio deck and set it to boil. “For 15 minutes?” I said.   “Really?  It only takes me 4 minutes in the microwave, with the husks on.”  His wife called at nearly 7 PM and said she was still at the clinic and wasn’t able to leave yet.  He got out a ziplock bag of cold rotisserie chicken pieces to heat up, but he said he wasn’t putting it in the microwave until he saw “the whites of her eyes.”  My nephew sliced tomatoes, bathed them in balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and sprinkled them with basil.  My brother told the story of a late uncle whose wife sent him out to her garden with scissors to cut some basil as she cooked, and he came in with a handful of petunia leaves.  

My sister in law came in, hugged me and went back out to the car.  She returned with two enormous southern Indiana cantaloupes, holding them in both arms in front of her short, small body.  She asked:  “What do you think of my melons?”

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