The year was 1969. The summer of Woodstock. People my age were chanting about peace and love and listening to rock music.
It was the summer between my graduation from high school and starting college. I talked my way into a minimum-wage job ($1.25 an hour) selling men’s clothes but found myself mostly doing dreaded inventory at a neighborhood, men’s retail store: 3 whiskey (color) glen-plaid (pattern), 42 R (size). I learned to tell a man’s waist and inseam measurement on sight and how to talk him into buying that pair of pants, with a shirt that complemented his eye color to boot. But I never talked the store owner into paying the commissions she’d promised.
We lived a walkable few blocks away in a smallish, newish bungalow on a tightly packed block of two-family flats, our house like a toddler riding a shiny new tricycle amongst an army of road-weary teens on dirt bikes, all looking down on us.
One Sunday, our next-door neighbor called over the fence to me as I sat in the yard, Jackie De Shannon singing “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” from my transistor radio, as I sunned myself in pursuit of a tan that would never come to my red-head’s skin, a fact it took me another ten years and more than one case of sun hives to realize.
As I walked to the fence our neighbor, someone we’d only waved to, told me she had a problem. I said what neighbors said, at least back then, “What can I do?”
She responded by handing over a bushel barrel of freshly-picked, fat, ripe peaches from her tree. “Take these. I have way too many.”
I probably said thanks before I took them inside to our tiny kitchen. That Sunday my Mom and I made endless pies, bulging with the fat, juicy peaches. We handed at least one such pie back over the fence to our neighbor and froze the pies our family couldn’t eat.
In the process of peeling and slicing peaches I bit into one. As juice ran down my chin and hands, my skin tingled and stars burst forth in that center of my brain that responds immediately with a physical high to an addictive substance. I suddenly had a little love in my heart. My vision filled with a vision of a hot, golden, summer day.
I savored that perfect peach and then gobbled a few more when mom wasn’t looking. That first, perfect-peach high. I was hooked.
For the last 49 summers I’ve been searching for another peach that good
This summer I shared part of a box of Georgia peaches from “the peach truck” that comes to Louisville several times a summer. I’ve bought bags of Georgia peaches multiple times at the fruit market. I’ve also bought bags of peaches at various farmers’ markets, some from Pennsylvania, South Carolina and one from about a mile down the lane on Tucker Station Road.
Almost all the peaches this summer have been good. Some are outstanding, others so-so. Some have just enough of the hint of that first, perfect, summer-of-1969-peach to keep me buying and trying peaches. Each time I think: “Maybe the next one”.