Gringo Stories: Introduction

A customer in the farm stand where I worked held a pineapple, bottom up, to his ear and told me, “If it beeps, it’s ripe.”

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote in Cross Creek Cookery, “Food imaginatively and lovingly prepared, and eaten in good company, warms the being with something more than the mere intake of calories.”

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings packed up her sophisticated northern city life in 1928 and moved down to Florida to write. She drew stories from the people she met there in Cross Creek, a community out in “Big Scrub.” That’s where she wrote The Yearling, published in 1938.

In 1994 I needed a break from living in the urban sprawl of Los Angeles, and I wanted to write, so I closed my catering business and drove to Southwest Florida for a winter’s working vacation. My daughter, 27, stood on the curb, waving goodbye. I drove off into the sunrise. “I’ll be back in a few months,” I said.

“You’re not gonna like that humidity,” my L.A. friends told me. I didn’t. Living on the Gulf coast in July felt like locking myself in a bathroom submerged in a tub full of steaming hot water. I stayed with my mother, who had a villa there. I got a job cashiering at a farm stand on 30 acres of strawberries, corn, tomatoes, lettuces, herbs, peppers, eggplant, squashes and melons. I loved the job, so I stayed much longer than I had foreseen – seven years, in fact.

My job had barely sprouted when the older, 60-something, string bean of a woman I cashiered with, a graying former model who’d grown up on a Michigan farm, declared to my boss, a tall, witty 40-something guy with strawberry blond hair who could imitate the geezers and snowbirds with perfect ripeness, “Hey, Brad, we’ve got ourselves a real city slicker here.”

I am called Carolina Gringo in Florida. I am a city slicker, right down to my shiny, black boots. So when I left the city and went to work on the farm, for a boss a good decade younger than I, I knew little about pulling fresh vegetables right out of the field, why the skin of Florida oranges is completely stuck to the pulp while that of California oranges peels right off (the former are juicier, therefore nearly impossible to peel), and I had yet to have a close encounter with a living, breathing watermelon of the Hindenburg variety.

Tree frogs on my toothbrush, snakes slithering among the potato display, hissing lizard fights, large, black mosquitoes that spring back when you slap them, Southerners who never do anything yet get everything done, all of these were new to my variety of cultivation in the cultures of Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

Nevertheless, I adapted quickly to the porta john, brushed up on my Spanish so I could converse with my Mexican co-workers—did he really say he ate his horse for lunch?—and learned all about citrus and that if you whack an unshucked ear of corn against a table all the worms fly off.

–Samantha Mozart for Carolina Gringo

 

8 Responses to Gringo Stories: Introduction

  1. Thank you so very much!!

    • Thanks for coming by, Journaleuse. I visited your website, and you have some interesting stories (I know little French, but I got the gist). As a journalist myself, I appreciate your work. I hope you will return.

  2. Hi Samantha – these will be so interesting and fun to read … looking forward to more … life from the fields … cheers Hilary

    • Thanks, Hilary. My time in Florida was fun with plenty of novel and amusing experiences. “Life from the fields” — I like that. At the farm stand that’s what it was, for me and for my Mexican coworkers. It wasn’t only vegetables that arose from the fields, but also a variety of critters, furry, winged and slithery. I enjoyed meeting people from all over the world — Lithuania, Russia, Germany, France, Spain, England, French and English Canadians and the Italians from New York who bought the cases of colorful Cubanelle peppers. Cheers!

  3. I look forward to more of these stories! They’re very alive not only for the writing; also for the snakes and worms and mosquitoes ..

    • Thanks, Susan. I will post more, doubtless competing for attention with the A-Z readership among my followers. Yes, my experiences in Florida were alive, both in high season with the snowbirds and off season with the critters.

  4. Robert Price

    Love this!!! Glad I took a break from a near insane work load. You, with your stories to tell, may have restored my sanity. Thank you.

    R.