Monday, January 17, 2011

He might as well have died

Dan might as well have died. 

Twice I’ve said that, out loud, and both times it had to do with food. M., in response, looked mildly horrified, as if I’d gone around the bend. 

I had thought she’d understand about Random Harvest, the produce market he loved. I liked Random Harvest too, but for Dan there was nothing else like the tomatoes and peaches they sold, the salads they made and the muffins they baked. We discovered tubes of tomato paste there, and blue cornmeal chips. He loved the people who worked there, he loved sitting on the porch with the dogs. 

The shop was seasonal, from May through Thanksgiving weekend, a gray clapboard building with an open porch and a small greenhouse; we were among the first who greeted Chris, Paul, and Theresa in the spring and we planned our lives around the Friday-after-Thanksgiving closing sale. We could do a week’s worth of shopping there on Saturday and Dan would find a reason to go back on Sunday. Let’s take the dogs for a ride, he’d say—Theresa loved the dogs—or, we’d pull in for local peaches or blueberry muffins on the way to Ore Pit Pond for a swim, and then we’d decide to stop by again on the way home. 
Summer dogs

But things always change, don’t they. The person you expect to outlive you dies. The most successful produce market for miles around is sold. A new family buys it, and in their first summer they keep things exactly the same. The next year they start tinkering, and as I’m pulling out of the parking lot one afternoon, I notice the huge metal box, hulking under the hanging plants—an ice machine.  

The words pop out, unbidden: Dan might as well have died.

He would have been furious. Ice machines speak of gas stations, 12-packs, Twinkies. Random Harvest was being dumbed down, was trying to be all things to all people. I can remember Theresa cheerfully telling a customer, “There’s a convenience store in either direction, where you can buy ice, mixers, anything else you need.” She welcomed her customer’s question; she was happy to refer him to another local business. His need would be taken care of; she didn’t have to do everything. 

And then one year, Random Harvest simply never reopened. I set off for swimming, looking forward to peach and a scone for the grass beach—I mean, I could taste this, the mix of sweet and savory—and later, on the way home, ice cream and a dinner salad. The loss was a complete surprise, the proverbial, metaphorical blow: the empty greenhouse, the little wooden Closed sign on the porch steps. No random harvest for you. 

A combination of the bad economy, and some unknown fatal flaw in management? After moving farther away, I shopped there less myself . . . but Dan, Dan would have stayed loyal till the end, would have felt such a deep sense of loss . . . of youth and tomatoes and friendship and sun, of flats of seedlings and dogs on the porch. Yes, the strawberry season passes in the blink of an eye, but do we have to be hit on the head with a reminder? 

It’s a thought wild in its logic, crazy in its rectitude, so I’ll put it like this: if they both had to die, it’s good he went first. 


  1. What a gift you have to see things as you do and to craft your words so that we can share in the workings of your mind (and heart). If more of us could, I wonder what our collective benefit might be. Significant, I'd guess.

  2. DG sends this: We too loved Random Harvest. That store is part of my earliest memories of Columbia County. I remember being totally charmed by it while visiting friends in Hillsdale. Later we went to a party in a swank Upper East Side apartment in Manhattan and were served a pie from Random Harvest by a man who had devoted a single room of his apartment to his birds and had an Egyptian mural painted on the ceiling in his dining room.

  3. The pies! How could I forget the pies?! And the city folk playing bumper cars in the big parking lot.