I think I just might be the best peach picker in Virginia. Well, in Rockingham County at least. And that isn't just me boasting. That's what Brother Jeb said all the time I was picking peaches for him. And Mr. Howell said that to me too. More than once he said that. I've heard both men say that, in the peach business, it's getting the first fruit of the season to market before anyone else does that can mean the difference between a good season and a break-even or bad season.
The summer after I graduated from college I crashed on my big sister Trish's couch for a few months. What else was I supposed to do? I had earned a bachelor's degree in anthropology, which translated to no money and no job prospects.
She had a little house in the woods outside the town we grew up in, and she said I could stay there as long as I needed. She'd mentioned something about having a boyfriend, but I didn't realize until I got there that he was pretty much living with her.
"He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff . . ."
The rich, resonating, calming baritone of the La Lectura began to weave Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea for us for perhaps the hundredth time, as we Torcedores settled once more into the rhythm of preparing our bunches of tobacco leaves perfectly for the press. We could not have done our demanding work without La Lectura, the reader who sat on the dais on the cigar factory floor, reading to us, first from the daily press and then from classical works—and sometimes, to our great privilege, reciting poetry to us in perfect rhythm to the set movements of our leaf bundling.
LeRoy was sitting on the porch, rocking and rubbing the head of that old hound dog of his, as Dinah walked up the stone path from the mailbox at the edge of the muddy road. She had walked slow up from the bus stop in the nearest town, at the mouth of a fold back into the Blue Ridge. The suitcase she was lugging, balanced on the other side by her guitar case, was heavy, but she wasn't walking slow because of that weight. She was weighed down by something more serious than that.