It has been the mildest Bay Area summer ever in Bill's memory. August is almost
over and temperature hasn't even broken above 90 degrees so far.
Regardless, peanuts have arrived like clockwork. The second Sunday, he swung by
Fremont farmers' market, which has moved to the east parking lot of the New Park
Mall and in-between the iMax theater and 880, and bought two lbs of the legume
for $10. He couldn't help grudging the cost. It grated on his nerves more than
bleeding his bank account. In the end, he told himself that farmers could be
struggling more in today's economy. We were all in the same boat, he concluded
and made his peace.
It reminded him of the people he came from, people he used to visit around this
time of the year. It had been almost three years since his last trip. With them,
he would pull the plants out of sandy soil and collect their seeds without paying.
No one there seemed aware that the staple crop was a New World expatriate. The old
country was still a flight away but man-made barriers were harder to cross. It was
good for the peanut to have come before Covid, he sighed. Maybe he was asking too
much. After all, he was the one who chose to jump ship two decades ago.
Back home, he gave the pods a wash before pouring them into a cast-iron dutch
oven, added water, half a cup of salt, a couple of star aniseeds, and a teaspoon
of five-spice powder, brought it to a boil, turned off the stove, and left the
pot to let the salty fragrant liquid soak in. In four hours, he would have a
delicious meal to polish off with a cold beer.
The next week, he went to the market in Mountain View for a change. This was
only his second time since moving to the city two and a half years ago. It sat
next to the downtown Caltrain station and was about the same size as the one in
Fremont. It boasted more artisan products including baked goods, however, and
among them Acme Bread, well-known in the larger bay area, had a booth.
Overall, the produce cost 20% more. A pound of fresh peanuts, e.g., fetched for
six bucks. With a budget of $20, he decided to pass. Then, as he looked ahead,
a sign that said 'You Are NOT Lactose Intolerant!' stood out a few yards away to
the left and behind it was the stand of the Claravale diary farm. What a pleasant
surprise! He had never met them although he had been buying their milk since the
Milk Pail days.
An elderly couple was paying a white-bearded gentleman in a buttoned shirt
behind the table, who turned out to be the owner, and six-feet behind them was a
middle-aged Asian woman in a scarlet brocaded sleeveless qipao. A bottle in
hand, she stood like a statue among the throng of shoppers moving up and down
the lane. Bill was not sure where he should wait for his turn.
"Is there a line?" He gave her a smile.
"They are in line." She pointed to the elderly couple without turning.
"And you are not?" He noticed her face mask but didn't think much. The third
year into the pandemic, nobody cared any more, he had wrongly assumed.
"I am next. Can't you see?" Her English had no accent.
"I couldn't. That's why I asked. And thank you." With that, he scooted
farther down the side of the booth to wait.
"Thank YOU!" Came the rejoinder from behind the mask.
But he had been sincere: 23+ years of no practice deprived him of even the
thought of queue-jumping. So the implicit accusation briefly registered and then
fell like water off a duck's back.
After a brief chat with Ron of Claravale to show appreciation, Bill bought raw
milk and sauntered on. It was almost 1:00pm and vendors started cleaning up. He
failed to find his favorite sweet purple yam but ran into some plump heirloom
tomatoes at the booth close to the entrance where a slender woman in a yellow
T-shirt was tearing a plastic bag off a roll. Seeing Bill with his hands full,
"Need a bag?"
"I've got one. Thank you."
Bill smiled back, put down his pick, and fished a bag out of his backpack's side
pocket. He almost always carried bags. It had stopped being a private pride from
environmental awareness and become a mindless habit.
The three fresh ripe tomatoes would taste sweet in the pasta and the beans, two
meals planned for the coming week. The goods were pricy but Bill came out under
budget. For him, the farmers' market was redeemed by the last trivial kindness
from a stranger. It was not that bad, after all.