When I moved to Water Valley it was a feat of coordination with moving vans, a car transport rig, delayed flights, lost mail and my wavering resolve about the whole scheme.
I lived at the Blu Buck Mercantile while details untangled themselves. It was July and in the scant daily supply of near-cool air, I sat on Main Street with early morning coffee from the Sprint Mart. Giant-18-wheelers balancing pyramids of cut logs shifted gears through town and city workers drove along in their white trucks.
Across the street a young man in a baseball cap and a plaid shirt would pull up and park his truck in front of Sartain’s. After he unlocked the store, he carried boxes of ripe peaches inside before moving lawn mowers and wheelbarrows outside for the consideration of Water Valley shoppers.
Curious, I walked over one morning. In a deep voice with an unhurried cadence, the young man said yes, these were local peaches from his father-in-law’s orchard and yes, they, like the jars of honey near the register, were for sale. Joey Hastings also told me local honey helped with allergies and if bothered by them, I might try a spoonful each day. The peaches and the honey became staples in my new Mississippi diet.
Recently, now settled in my rented house with the fig trees, the weather turned cold under dark, drizzly skies; a pall of melancholy hung over the porch. Then I thought of Joey Hastings’ peaches.
As I pushed the porch swing back and forth, my mind moved forward to July, that moment in time when for a few brief weeks peaches return. I could see the round, heavy fruit dripping juice stretch out in front of me.
Sliced in a blue and white bowl afloat in heavy cream. A pie, its filling flecked with nutmeg, a squeeze of lemon, its browned crust crimped in a perfect edge. A deep-dish cobbler rich with butter, its topping crisp from a hot oven and brown sugar. Fat wedges coated with sweetness and tucked deep across the surface of a delicate cake.
And then there was conserve with a few slivered dried apricots added to give it backbone and a grate of lemon zest to give it surprise. And hot buttered biscuits piled with cinnamon seasoned fruit under a mound of vanilla-laced-whipped cream.
My wandering thoughts stayed the course and skipped to Paris where clafoutis waited, peaches baked in a thick batter studded with blueberries. And for a grand finish my traveling mind remembered an authentic French melba, a perfect balance of peach, vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce, simply presented in a silver bowl.
My imagination finally left summer and its peaches, returning me to the porch and the thick rain. I was struck, as I have so often been during my months as a transplant living in Water Valley, of the lasting similarities people share.
Oh, we may line up behind different politicians and bow our heads in different churches. We prefer different cars and different amounts of sugar in our tea. We most likely will never agree on the crispness of our green beans nor the entertainment value of mud.
However, we think the same about the essential things. No matter where we are – Western Pennsylvania, Upstate New York, Long Island, Paris, France, or Sartain’s Hardware Store in Water Valley, Mississippi, we wait together for summer and the return of the ripened peach.