This is the coldest night of our trip. After complaining about the heat and humidity of Florida, we’re shivering in the chilly air a few miles south of Vicksburg…still alongside Highway 61. My trusty thermometer tells me it’s 37 degrees just fifteen inches behind me and through the thin wall of the R-pod. I push my new CD into the player. I go straight to Track 6. It’s Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s version of St. James Infirmary.
Let her go, let her go, God bless her
Wherever she may be
She can look this wide world over
But she’ll never find a sweet man like me…
I tear open the bag of boiled peanuts I just bought. I finger out a half-dozen and break open the cold shells. They’re better when they’re hot.
I put a thin fleece blanket over my shoulders and listen to the music. I settle back in my fleece and think about the place where I just bought the boiled peanuts, the CD of Mississippi Blues, and a Blackberry Oatmeal cookie. I also think about the felt fedora I nearly paid $35.00 (+ tax) for.
The store and small eating area is called The Tomato Place. The outside looks like any vegetable stand. The interior…well, it’s funky and folky and full of items to please the eye.
But, mostly I’m thinking of the young woman who stood behind the counter. She was the daughter of the owner. The owner is Luke. His daughter, the woman behind the counter is Mallary and she told us she recently got married. I couldn’t turn away from her eyes. They were chocolate-brown and wondrously expressive. She touched my arm.
[Mallary is the daughter of the owner. She had the “perfect man list”]
“You know what? I put away my ‘perfect man list’ and I’ve never been happier,” she said.
“Good for you,” I said.
“I’d love to travel, like y’all, but you know what? I get to stand here behind the counter and meet people like you and it’s almost like going on a trip,” she told us.
“Certainly saves on plane fares,” I said.
It was getting dark…we had seen the red globe of the sun sink into the flatlands of Louisiana, across the Big River. It was time to go home. Time to listen to some blues and eat some peanuts.
It was time to stop looking at the fedoras and the large (!) sacks of peanuts. And, it was time to let Mallary help the next customer.
But, we had our dinner plans for Tuesday night. Mallary makes a mean Tomato Pie.
I went back to The Tomato Place on Tuesday morning. Mallory wasn’t in yet, so I spent a delightful hour chatting with Angela. Meeting people like Angela and Mallary are a reminder of why I love to travel…and get off the Interstates…and discover little gems like this place.
[Angela serves a great mug of coffee and has an interesting life]
Where else would I get to see a 50 pound sack of peanuts?
Where else would I find an object d’art like this record bowl:
[It’s The J. Geils Band “Bloodshot”]
Or a nutcracker that doesn’t look like a tin soldier?
I sat and read a book for a while in the back room of the dining area. It was space that had an eclectic assortment of tables and chairs. The walls were filled with jars of preserves, jams, packages of coffee and syrups. Soft music played from small speakers. I could actually think in this little space. I could concentrate. I could comprehend what I was reading. Sipping my coffee, I used the quiet to plan this posting and to think of more questions about the lives of these two young women that I met, purely by serendipity, in this little structure that looked as though it was a simple vegetable stand.
Some real treasures, real discoveries and some real people, with a gentle politeness and engaging smiles who willing share brief parts of their lives, are behind the doors that are the most unpretentious.