Summer turns into a pumpkin along roadsides

September 04, 1995|By JACQUES KELLY

What happened? About two weeks ago at the start of my vacation, the roadside vendors were selling cantaloupe and bunches of red zinnias.

Come Labor Day weekend, the scene had changed. The temperatures were down 25 degrees from the mid-August highs, and the cantaloupe suddenly looked less interesting. Though just a few days into September, the sides of the Eastern Shore and Delaware roads had mountains of stacked pumpkins the color of orange in an Orioles jersey.

There were some surviving zinnias (now growing too tall and lopsided), but the real show was on the deep maroon red cock's comb blooms, that favorite of the fall gardener. There were so many pots of amber and yellow mums around I wondered if this was a new cash crop.

Not every sign of Labor Day was in the garden and field. One of the passengers in the Baltimore-bound car wherein I observed the scenery from the back seat requested an emergency stop at an IGA food market. Poor suffering Wally needed some hay fever elixir to relieve his runny nose and watering eyes.

It is hard to imagine a worse place for a September allergy sufferer than a winding road through the parched cornfields of Sussex County, Del. But come to think of it, a Charles County tobacco barn filled with a new crop set to dry isn't a great locale for the allergy-prone either.

Along the way home was a sign that would not turn up in Baltimore. In Milton, Del., there's one for a 99-cent scrapple sandwich. I almost stopped for one but remembered the three or four scrapple breakfasts I'd had on the trip. I reconsidered the wisdom of one more helping of cornmeal laced with ground-up pig's whatever. But there is nothing quite like local scrapple browned to a crisp and served with a couple of fresh eggs.

We did stop at a Route 16 landmark, Farmer Bill's Produce stand. This is a fairly large and tidy stand that has been on my summer agenda for decades. It's run by the same family and looks much as it did in the early 1970s.

On my August stop here, Bill's was full of standard summer vegetables. By Labor Day, the place was decked out in bales of hay, pumpkins, Hubbard and acorn squash.

In early August, I can't get enough ripe red tomatoes. But by now, I'm looking forward to all that fall squash that needs baking in a hot oven.

There was a startling difference between the scenery of Aug. 19 and that of early September. When my trip began last month, the corn was dry but still had a greenish tint. This Labor Day weekend, rainless weeks had turned the corn into a depressing, burned-up yellowish brown. Even the normally unstoppable sorghum crop didn't look too happy.

A field of sunflowers near Queenstown that in August looked like something that Martha Stewart would want to romp through had become ugly and disfigured.

The sun that burned up the corn also did a job on my skin, thanks to the two weeks I spent on the Atlantic Ocean at Rehoboth Beach. This is the first year I used up every drop of sunscreen I carried along, including some tubes of lotion that were bought during the Reagan years.

There were accurate news reports of the strong riptides and undertow in the surf. On several days, the lifeguards would not permit anyone in the water. The August tides and distant, offshore storms put on a show of wave-action might and foam that I enjoyed at a comfortable and safe distance from the upper reaches of a dry and sandy beach.

Then Thursday, I made a day trip via the ferry boats that cross the Delaware Bay, connecting Cape Henlopen with Cape May, my destination.

Once in New Jersey, I climbed to the top of the old Cape May lighthouse and searched out several Victorian homes as well as the old St. Peter's Chapel at Cape May Point, a precarious piece of ocean-side geography that the waves are always threatening to claim.

Come evening, I boarded the ferry for the return trip to Lewes, Del.

I have no idea if the aftereffects of Felix or Gerry or whatever storm were to blame, but that vessel rocked and rolled like a toy in a bathtub. It felt like a ride on a wooden roller coaster. It was an 80-minute lesson in the minor effects of seasickness.

So, come the summer of 1996, I don't think I'll try an ocean cruise around Labor Day weekend.

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