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Recently, I met a friend of a friend, and he is quite a character. Eccentric would not do him justice, but it is a start. Let me tell the story from the beginning and see what you think.
A few months ago, I heard of him, a fellow I will call David, from my friend. I heard that he had a house built into the side of a hill, he hunted or grew all of his own food and that he was an avid church-goer. As everyone knows though, hearing a story rarely ever sheds the proper light on all the many facets that make life so interesting. Well, as luck would have it, I got a chance to meet this character – farmer, hunter, gun-collector, hermit, Southern gentleman and sworn Christian…
Yes, it was a hot day in late August. My friend had originally invited me over to do some yard work, but when I got there, she said, “you know Kirby, I’m heading out to David’s farm to pick some peas. Do you want to join me?” Not having anything better to do at the time, I said, “Sure.”
We hop in her fancy-schmancy hybrid Toyota Highlander, which practically drives for you – a camera that turns on when you are backing up? Wow! Anyway, I only mention this vehicle to set the bizarre dichotomy which is about to befall when I meet David and then get a chance to walk through his hobbit-like home. We drive about twenty minutes outside of Charlottesville, coming to some back roads and then driving a long, private driveway. I am told to keep my eyes peeled as we are looking for the second garden.
Sure enough, we pass the first one – I could tell it was a garden due to the fence and the organized corn rows sticking over it. And within a couple minutes I pointed out the second garden, where more corn could be seen. We had brought a basket for each of us, and extra bags just in case we got really zealous with the picking. My friend called David to let him know we had arrived. He told her to park in the shade, but as far as we could tell, there was no shade anywhere near the driveway. And then we got to picking.
We first walked through a hedge of corn stalks, passed through a row of tomatoes, stepped over a row of low vines which were plump with full green bean pods (turns out they were black-eyed peas). And then we got to our query: a long row of dixie-lee peas. These plants aren’t much to look at – wide green leaves, a huge tangle of vines and the occasional green pod of varying ripeness.
Let me just provide some context. I am no farmer, in fact, aside from picking veggies out of my mother’s garden and planting some flowers for friends off and on, I have no experience with farming or picking anything. Well there were a few years when we would pick our own strawberries, but again, nothing to write home about. Well, I had my hat and sunscreen on and I was ready.
We started on opposite sides of the row, my friend telling me a little about David. She said that one time they were going for a little walk around his farm and he made a point to lock his house. She said, “Now David, we are not going to be gone that long are we?… I mean, do I need to lock my car??!!” If you can imagine being two to three miles down a twisting, curving driveway with extremely narrow bridges over creeks, and then seeing this scenario, it gets more comical. David said, “Well no.. but I have my gun collection inside and I always lock my house when I leave.” Well there you go – not that it was a “bad neighborhood,” as a matter of fact, I’m not sure how many miles away the nearest neighbor might be – seriously!
Well we got to picking. I was finding all sorts of pods, and it was only on hindsight that I realized I was taking a few that were under ripe – only pick them if they are plump and loose. I learned that the odd colored pods, sometimes with a few brown spots, produce the best beans (yes, beans, despite being called “peas” once you shell the bean, it looks more like a brown bean than a pea).
Then David arrived. I knew he was a character as soon as he greeted my friend. He seemed standoffish around me, and when I tried to go up to him to introduce myself, he turned his back on me and said, “Yeah yeah, in a bit, I’ll come over there!” And that was that, so I went back to picking. I mean he is in his mid to late seventies, so I minded my elders.
Despite his seeming abruptness toward me, he bantered with my friend, asking about her family, giving her a hard time about inheriting some money, and picking on her in a good-natured way about various things. He said, “Yep, I’m gonna pick you a mess of black-eyed peas to take back with you. Oh, and do you want some melon to go with that?” He was very generous with her.
When he finally made his way to us, he introduced himself and showed us what we should and should not be picking – because if you leave the smaller pods on the vines, they will be ripe within a few weeks. He told me, “Yeppers, these peas are the best protein, even cheaper than beef!” He seemed proud of his garden, and I would be too if I had put that much work into something. He had an unusual accent – difficult to place. Not southern per se, definitely not British, but an unusual conglomeration of several I’d say. Oh – and his laugh was classic! You could instantly tell he spent a lot of time alone, because if he said something that he considered to be funny, he would throw his head back and howl. Literally howl, yes, I’m serious, or maybe it was more like a cackle. It was great!
[update May 2021: my friend mentioned that his accent was more like what “true” Virginian would have sounded like 100 – 150 years ago. His ancestors have been in Virginia for several generations apparently.]
Next installment: Wrapping up at the farm and seeing his underground “house”