A Georgia Peach
THE Belles of Georgia were passées. But there still remained those too ripe for shipment. And if you have never eaten a rejected Belle of Georgia in the orchard, you have never eaten a peach! But we saw that they were picking the Elbertas; so we pushed Sisyphus, our Chinese wheelbarrow, up the mountain, and stopped before the caretaker’s cabin to ask for work. Not that we especially desired work; but we desired peaches in such quantity, and for so long a period, that work seemed the best way to acquire them.
The caretaker’s dog, disregarding our beloved mongrel’s pathetic friendliness, and utterly ignoring the usual sign of amity, growled an insulting remark about our appearance, which John, our dog, resented. The pickers were passing from their day’s work, and we were at once divided into conscientious objectors and jingoes. Peter seized John by the tail, the caretaker seized his dog in a like manner, and there was an enforced armistice. It seemed an inauspicious moment in which to ask for work, but we did. The mountaineer grinned, and said: ‘The fo’eman, he’s gone ter town, but youall kin move inter the shack next mine, and I reckon he’ll take you-all on in the mornin’. Ever pick er pack?’
Peter replied that we were experienced, as indeed we are. For Peter has experienced the orange industry, and I have paid off several installments of my karma owning and operating alone a large commercial apple orchard wished on me in the Middle West.
So we borrowed a broom, put John on his chain, and pushed Sis into the cabin, where in the rock fireplace the kettle boiled cheerfully before nightfall.
The next morning at sunrise we climbed the steep rocky path to the packing shed. The great, clean, open pavilion sat on the very pinnacle of the mountain, overlooking one hundred acres of peach trees en talus, each rocky terrace just wide enough for a foot ing below its row of trees. On every side the sun glinted on blue billows of distant mountains, their summits gleaming with rainbow mists forever dissolving in the serene air. Spring comes late up this way, and in a few short weeks works, with tremendous fervor, her creative will. And early the drowsy earth croons her summer song of enchantment and tranced calm. We sat before a packing table, and in the brooding quiet listened expectantly for the pipe of a shepherd on a hillside.
Suddenly Peter glared at me with an anxious eye. ‘Those Elbertas!’ he cried. ‘They are not colored. They are picking too green!’ And he hurried down to inspect the fruit. I was not moved to vicarious anxiety, and remained to reflect that after all these weeks of idle wandering along the open road, like happy gypsies of an older day, we had deliberately turned aside into this disquieting avenue of trade.
Peter returned with his worst fears confirmed. But I gently reminded him that this orchard was not ours, and invited him to watch the workers who were assembling. For there entered a grande dame with a regal air, followed by other grandes dames equally queenly. A bevy of girls in gowns of blue, and gold, and pink, and lavender, with little aprons daintily embroidered, flitted in like butterflies, followed by slim youths in clean blouses, with old-fashioned faces like Civil War daguerreotypes. The grandes dames sat in comfortable corners and opened books or magazines. Someone played a fox trot on a harmonica, and presently the young people were dancing. They danced happily, with grace and decorum, and it was a sweet sight in the summer morning.
‘No poor whites here,’ said Peter. ‘These are the old-time aristocrats, eaten out by the boll weevil. I’m glad I’m not the fo’eman!’
The foreman appeared. He was a plump, blonde, pompous young man, and I fancied these people called him a Yankee. For at once the dancing stopped, and an air almost of sullenness settled upon us. Peter was hired as a picker, but I hesitated and did not apply, though I am rather an expert packer. But without, under the trees, there were too many conferences, with some show of unpleasantness, between the owner and the buyer, and the foreman seemed irritated and confused. At noon Peter told me he had at once discovered the trouble. The brown rot had suddenly developed, and the owner was forcing green peaches on the buyer, in the hope of saving his crop. The poor foreman was at his wit’s end, attempting to teach these experienced pickers to pick green, and to force the packers to make a dishonest pack. His attempts at pleasantry, in his crisp Northern voice, were met with respectful silence, and his sharp reprimands with quiet scorn.
I sat near the foreman’s desk, and heard him say to a youth who arrived late, ‘We’re picking as green as we can to-day,’ and he gave him a sample peach to carry. It was very green indeed. When this particular youth returned with his basket, the buyer happened in, and both he and the foreman stepped quickly to examine the fruit. Before the buyer could speak, t he foreman cried, ‘What do you mean by picking green peaches! Ain’t you got no sense! Take these out to the culls!’ The young man produced his sample peach. ‘Your own sample that you gave me to pick by,’ he said. ‘It’s no such thing! ’ yelled the foreman. ‘ What are you talking about?’ and he seized the peach and threw it outside.
The youth’s face turned as white as death, and every woman stopped packing. But he said in a controlled voice, ‘My time, if you please.’
‘You bet you can have your time, and anybody else can that don’t pick honest!’ And he went to his desk, where he was a long time making out the check, for every packer arose and walked to the trembling youth,
‘Aunt Louise,’ he said firmly, ‘take the girls and go back to work. You too, Cousin Carrie — all of you. This is my affair. Just business, you know.’ He accepted his check with a bow, and the foreman scrawled on the signboard: —
I am the foreman of this orchard and no back talk aloud—Harry Watson.
The pickers filed by the sign with lowered eyes; only Peter laughed.
That evening, in the village, a young man challenged the foreman to fight. He refused, and was gently spanked before an admiring audience. (No doubt Uncle Jeff or Cousin Lee remitted the fine; for all these people seem related.) The next day there was another foreman. No doubt the Northern foreman returned with vivid tales of the lawless South. The new foreman was a Southerner, less efficient, but with the leisurely executive ability that somehow gets things done. The Southerner knows what to slight — and the one to slight! Still, with every truckload starting to the railway, there was bickering between the owner and the buyer. I was sorry for the owner, who stood to lose his crop. And, after all, a peach is considered ripe when it splits from the seed, and these did. But flavor comes with color on the tree. The orange grower openly gases his fruit for color, and the apple orchardist trusts the apples to color in the box or barrel. They may. But the consumer misses the delicate flavor.