This Time of Year, Life Is Peachy
by Vivian I. Zumstein
July. Hot and sweltering. Time for peaches.
I first stopped to buy peaches from the peach lady, as my children dubbed Peg, in my second summer in Calvert County. I had passed the fruit stand along Route 4 countless times on my way home from work. Id toyed with the idea of stopping, but I was deterred by anticipation of the difficult merge back into rush hour traffic.
One day, traffic was light. On impulse, I pulled onto the shoulder of Route 4. As I stepped out of the air-conditioned car, still holding the door, a semi-truck roared past. The blast of air knocked into me like a physical blow. The car shuddered under my hand. The clammy atmosphere smothered like a wet blanket, catching my breath in my throat. In seconds, my skin was covered in a wet sheen and my white polyester Navy uniform shirt fused with my back.
Suddenly this peach thing didnt seem like such a good idea. Since I was already stopped, I made my way through the knee-high grass, alive with leaping grasshoppers, to the temporary stand under a white tent.
The epitome of the outdoor woman greeted me: sun-reddened, glowing skin, thick, graying hair pulled back in a pony-tail bedecked by a navy blue bandana, slender, fit arms and a bright eye.
Tell me whats good, I demanded. Peg recommended the red havens, picked that morning and ready to eat.
Thanks, I murmured. Then, eager to escape the heat, I scuttled back to the car with a box.
It hit me only seconds after I pulled back into traffic: not a vehicle, but the fragrance of the peaches. The bouquet curled its way throughout the car, filling my nostrils with irresistible sweetness. Several hours sitting in the 95-degree heat had resulted in peak perfume. I glanced at the fruit sitting on the seat beside me: round, ripe and rich orange with just a blush of red. Like a still-life portrait, one peach still had its stem and three narrow, green leaves draped across the other fruits. My mouth watered.
Minutes from home, I debated whether to eat a peach en route. I reached over and gave a gentle squeeze. Firm with just a little give. Perfect. As I cradled the peach, it warmed my hand.
Eat me! it coaxed. I considered my white uniform. Eating this ripe peach while bombing along Route 4 at 65 miles per hour was bound to be messy. Eat me! the peach insisted. I dont remember how the peach found its way into my mouth. The skin stretched under my teeth, then yielded. Flavor exploded in my mouth and juice dribbled down my chin. I didnt care. I munched with delight. By the time I reached my driveway, the box was short not one but two peaches, my uniform shirt was a mess, my steering wheel was sticky and I no longer needed dinner.
I have been a regular at the fruit stand ever since, even braving heavy rush hour traffic to get my peach fix. My family looks forward to the first peaches of the season. Peg tells me the best peaches for pies, cobblers and jams, and she even gave me a wonderful recipe for peach brandy milkshakes. But the taste of summer sunshine from a fresh peach is the flavor I savor almost daily when the fruit is in season, and my shirtfront remains a casualty on the drive home.