Pastime: The fruit and nut ‘peddlers’ for Christmas time

Today’s brisk weather reminds me of the scant few weeks until Christmas and the Pastimes keep rolling in.

By Maylon T. Rice

This special time right after Thanksgiving and until Christmas morning was always a magical time when all the stores along Main (and others) were brimming with goods, shoppers, and kids peering into all the decorated windows festooned with holiday glitz and crepe paper snowflakes.

This Pastime is not focused today on gifts, or Yule decorations, school programs or even on my favorite holiday food as a kid.

But the focus is on the small, but erstwhile army of ‘peddlers’ that appeared in the fall, especially around the holidays, hawking peanuts, pecans, pumpkins, apples, oranges, sweet potatoes and sometimes big giant sticks of peppermint candy from the tail gaits of their old pickup trucks around Warren.

These peddlers were a favorite of my uncles and especially my late grand paw, Levi Brown.

And sadly, they are almost, if not, now all gone.

Especially the ones I grew up visiting with my grandparents, uncles and aunt and my mom during the hectic holiday season.

Never did my grand paw pass a roadside peddler that this little farmer, who lived on 80-acres in the last house of the left before you got to the North Steel Bridge on formerly known Highway 15, some 7.2 miles north of Warren, that Levi Brown did not stop to talk.

And talk. And talk, And talk.

He truly loved these country peddlers.

And if that peddler had a collection of my grand paw neighbors viewing his wares, well you might be there for an extra-long spell.

One old timey ‘peddler’ I can fondly recall was a Mr. Edgar Rawls.

Rawls was not a peddler who always had a mighty fine inventory of holiday nuts (both local and foreign), like the Brazil nuts, Pine nuts, the fancy Eastern Chestnuts or the ever-delightful Cashews.

These nuts, usually available only for the holidays, were given favor over the locally grown and harvested pecans, peanuts or walnuts, all us country kids knew and loved.

It was from the back of an old pickup truck, sitting on a rusted tailgate, that I first tasted those crazy green, but decidedly delicious – pistachio nuts. 

The same can be said for those salty tasting pine nuts and in-the-shell almonds or those tasty little hazelnuts that were easy to shell and stood up pretty well to the swing of the hammer.

Edgar Rawls could take up a handful of pecans and crack them in his bare hand. The “meats” always came out almost uniformly in two halves – not in crushed pieces as if I were attempting the hand-shelling route.

And certainly not when my left-handed southpaw swing wielded the old ball-peen hammer at home as I cracked open these meaty delights.

Even using those fancy two-handled shiny steel nut crackers that always came with a cheap set of scalpel-looking dental probes picks to ferret out the meat from the unyielding shells, I was a danger.

I usually pinched my own hand (often until the blood blister arose) and pulverized those innocent pecans into a thousand pieces of oblivion.

Rawls also always carried an assortment of spices and herbs for the real cooks of the holiday kitchen. He has some lemons that were hard as stones, but boy the taste was found in these tight little misshapen and off-colored fruits.

He had finally-wound sticks of raw cinnamon that were just right for cups of hot chocolate and scalding containers of brewed teas.

Rawls, always at Christmas time, had these mystery bottles of some alleged Mexican or South American vanilla – a syrupy mixture dark as an old seasoned cast iron skillet. The colorful label, all in the Latin and Spanish Mother Tongue – that was the kind my grandmother loved.

For the kids, these “peddlers” have big sticks of red and white striped peppermint treats. Some of these were as big, we thought, as a small baseball bat.

They always had those tough, but sugary orange slices of gelatin – not real oranges and many times a mystery treat from South of the Border – an almost dirty looking pressed jerky looking concoction made of coconuts and brown sugar.

That exotic delight would set even the biggest sugar tooth on tilt.  Man, it was good.

Rawls and others also sold tin cans of cane molasses, honey and plain old sorghum. These delights are in itself a Pastime for another day.

Warren had its own grocery stores with all the holiday fruits and vegetables and most of the traditional nuts at such establishments as the Mad Butcher, Kroger, the Paint Pot, Reynold’s Market, McKinney’s Grocery, Neal’s Grocery, Robert and Johnson’s Grocery, Stuard’s Grocery & Gun Shop, on Baggett Hill, and my family favorite for a small country store, Ruth & Robert Ferrell’s Store on Highway 15.

But the allure for these roadside stands was indeed immense for country folk.

There were lots of little roadside stands, on street corners for the holidays.

It was indeed a gentler kinder time, as you walked around the pickup eyeing up the wares all to go into a couple of brown paper sacks in exchange for some crumpled dollar bills and a handful of coins.

I need to get out and find a simple roadside stand today, but alas the Pastime of these peddlers is now gone.

And thankfully so, lost in time, is that ball-peen hammer that always smashed my right thumbnail.

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