When Brody left the house after they loaded the pickup with produce, his daddy was already wiping the sweat from his face.
"You got the cooler, Brody Boy? This here's an 80-80 mornin' a'ready."
"'s on the porch, Pa. I'm jist fixin' to get 'er in the truck."
The old man nodded and continued wiping his face, idly waving his broad-brimmed hat with his other hand to cool down the already darkened sweat band. Brody climbed the porch steps to retrieve the cooler and glanced at the fancy thermometer his brother, Amos, sent last Christmas. The top dial indicated 83 degrees. The middle one said the humidity was 81 percent. Brody laughed.
"Yer raht on the nose, Pa. An 80-80 mornin'.
He heaved the cooler onto the passenger side floor board and turned at the sound of light footsteps coming down from the house.
"Here's your sammiches, Brody Boy," his sister Belle said with a grin, watching Brody's face. "Peanut butter and grape jelly."
Belle laughed out load as the lines of disappointment etched their way across Brody's forehead.
"You ain't never gonna larn, are ya? Ham and cheese ... same as always."
Brody smiled in relief, took the sack, gave Belle a hug, and swung himself into the truck. He put the sack of sandwiches in the cooler and patted his pocket to make sure he had a roll of quarters and waved so-long to his daddy and sister. On the way out of the yard he passed the Mexicans in the flatbed heading in the other direction toward the orchards. He gave them a big smile and a wave.
Ten minutes later he reached the edge of the orchard and farm where it bordered on Highway 76. He stopped the truck in front of the produce stand and began unloading the baskets, bags, and buckets of fruit and vegetables. He put the cooler under the long counter near the old cane chair at the east side of the open-air building where it would be as far as possible from the afternoon sun. He checked the truck once more to make sure he hadn't missed anything and then moved it behind the little building. He patted his pocket once more for the quarter roll, reached across the seat for the cordless phone, and left the truck, grabbing the change box from under the seat before he shut the door.
Back in the building he sat the phone at the back of the long display table and carefully plugged it into the jack the way Amos had showed him. Then he plugged in the a/c adapter and made sure the charging light came on the base unit. Last he unfurled the awning over the front of the building. Now he was ready for the part he liked the best.
Brody sat on the three-legged cane chair, the corner with the missing leg precariously supported by an apple crate. It was a more adventuresome perch than normal because he was working at the long display table, leaning forward over his work. He referred often to the sheet of paper his daddy gave him as he painted today's message on the big rectangles of poster board.
"Big letters," daddy said. "They gotta see it from the road while they's drivin' 'long."
TREE RIPEN PEACHES is what daddy had written.
He had to put each word on a separate line if he was going to use big letters. And he didn't want to use capital letters. He didn't have much use for them. They looked too puffed up and fancy ... too full of themselves. When he finished his three lines of printing, he washed the brush and closed the can of paint. He put them back on the shelf where he kept them and without noticing patted his pocket for the quarters. Then he hung the two announcements on the big six-by-sixes at each end of the front of the building, making sure they could be seen by traffic from either direction along the highway.
The signs said
He liked the letter p and he thought using two of them made the sign look friendlier. Pleased with his effort, he checked to make sure that Belle's signs were secure on the posts below his new signs. Hers announced that everything was either 25 cents a pound, 50 cents a pound, 4-for-a-dollar in the case of corn, or two dollars the basket for peaches.
Brody didn't have the problems with numbers that he did with letters. They stayed the same shape and sound no matter what. Working with quarters and dollars was fun and easy. Every night Belle figured the day's take and set aside the state sales tax to make Brody's job easier.
He expected to be busy today. These were the first peaches of the season. Daddy didn't pick any green peaches for the produce stand or the local markets. The big corporations had already bought truckloads of peaches that barely had the first blush of yellow and orange on them. They'd be canned or bottled or mashed or frozen. Some would be force ripened and trucked by the ton all over the country. Brody knew that their customers on Highway 76 didn't want to bust a tooth on some rock-hard green peach. And Brody also knew that green peaches had a funny way of doing liquid things to your insides.