There is no summer experience quite like a stop at your favorite roadside stand for Maryland tomatoes and corn. This week, we stopped on Route 16 in Caroline County, a few miles short of Denton, and filled a car. In the four days following, I polished off a whole watermelon.
The stop reminded me of the day my brother Eddie decided to set up his own little market on the boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach, Del. It was about 50 years ago, in the days when families spent entire summers at the ocean. My father, Joe Kelly, arrived on the weekends, his Rambler station wagon filled with mail from Baltimore and, on this occasion, several bushels of tomatoes donated by a commercial grower friend in New Jersey.
Even for our hungry household of 12, this was a bumper crop. We passed them out to summertime friends, but there was still an excess. And beach refrigeration was not extensive.
Somehow, Eddie got the idea that these nice ripe tomatoes might sell in the same way that kids set up stands and offer lemonade.
With permission, he selected a dozen or so tomatoes and arranged them on the boardwalk's planks. This was the period when things were not so crowded and busy in Rehoboth. There was plenty of vacant land after the storm of March 1962 swept through the place. Eddie found a spot where, after a high, high tide, the ocean had cut in, undermined some sand and created a little depression where he could stand. He had a perfect sales counter.
The vacant lot he chose was between a Swiss Dairy Farm soft ice-cream shop and the Pink Pony cocktail lounge, facing, of course, a sunny and beautiful beach.
I thought to myself that my brother displayed a lot of enterprise and his characteristic optimism about selling very ripe tomatoes to bathers entering and exiting the beach. This was not a traditional grocery store location.
Our summer home was next door in a small apartment building fronted by a screened porch with a full view of the ocean and Eddie's little tomato market. My grandmother, Lily Rose, and her sister, Cora, missed nothing worth observing from this, their personal crow's nest.
Cora gave Eddie about a sales-less hour on his own, as I recall, then decided to move things along a bit. She appeared on the boardwalk in full walking attire, ironed cotton blouse and Bermuda shorts worthy of the city of Hamilton on the British Commonwealth island. With her dark prescription glasses and deep tan, she looked the part of a seasoned vacationer.
Assuming the role of a would-be shopper, and in a voice that could have been heard in the next county, she proclaimed how marvelous, ripe and juicy the tomatoes looked and noted that the local A&P would have charged far more.
She put her nickel down and dusted up enough of a commotion that someone else (an actual customer, not related) bought one.
On the spot, she saw the sales marketing potential and took off for the apartment. She returned, not with paper bags, but with a magic sales tool: a saltcellar. It worked. Before long, Eddie was sold out, and half the people on the beach were eating healthy, ripe, salted tomatoes.