Last Saturday morning I got up blissfully late (it’s sad when 8 a.m. is sleeping in nearly 3 hours, but such is my great job,) and wandered down to the local coffee house. It’s called J.C. Beans (although for a long time I thought its name was “Coffee House” as that is what’s emblazoned most prominently on the side. It wasn’t until I heard a barista answer the phone with a perky “J.C. Beans, good morning!” that I realized the truth.)
Being a small-town-ish girl, I’m always endeavoring to do small-town things, so J.C. Beans is the perfect scratch for my community itch. The baristas are friendly and remember their regulars, the decor is perfect mix of C.S. Lewis’ earthy leather study and eclectic girlishness, and everything reeks of fresh ground coffee and hot apple strudel.
Leaving the coffee house, I continued walking down PCH, savoring my hot triple 1% vanilla latte and the foggy morning air. I smiled at the jogger with her high-maintenance pooch and was quickly reminded that is still Orange County after all, as she looked at me with a “what do YOU want?” glare.
A couple of blocks later found me in Dana Point Plaza, a little grassy park in between Hennesy’s Tavern and the Chevron station, where the Farmer’s Market appears every Saturday.
There’s one booth there that I love - and it’s mostly because of the lady who runs it. I don’t know her name, but I imagine it’s something romantic, like “Rose”, but I’ve never asked, just in case it happens to be quite the opposite, like “Pat” or “Marge”.
She always has a variety of fruit and hand-written squares of cardboard telling her customers that it’s “Very Sweet”. She is probably in late fifties, with long, wavy gray hair and a soft Latino lilt to her voice. She obviously loves her job and her customers, cutting large wedges of Asian pear for her favorites and smiling gleefully as they bite in, waiting for the happy “mmmm” that inevitably follows.
“It’s so good, yeah?” She says, already offering a bag and another sample. “Try the peaches, kind of small, but so sweet, too, honey. Yes... and you want a plum? Here, I give you one.”
Of course, probably 9 out of 10 people who stop end up buying fruit from her, partly because it is incredibly good and partly because she is so captivating herself. As I wander away, licking peach juice from my fingers and carrying a few pounds of fruit in my hand, I hear her, happily offering her wares to more Saturday looky-lous:
“Here, honey, try this. So delicious... good day for fruit, yeah?”
I wander by the flower stands and the bakers, only stopping because it most certainly is sweet bread season and I can’t resist. (Okay, so I stopped by the flowers, too, but firmly told myself “no” before-hand, so I was safe.)
My latte was almost gone and the fruit was feeling heavier, so I started back for home. On my way up the hill, I saw a sign for a “Giant Plant Sale” and knowing a Certain Someone’s wanna-be green thumb, I had to peek in. A crusty old fella was smoking a cigarette and lovingly trimming a fern when I walked up. A couple of palm trees and a some other tropical-looking plants sat on the curb with him - so maybe “Giant” Plant Sale was an exaggeration.
“Hey there,” he said, smiling at me as though I were a good friend. “Need a plant?”
I chuckled a little - I need a plant like I need a hole in my head - but I still reached out to touch a giant palm leaf.
He turned his mouth down and gave an approving nod. “Yep.” He pulled in a hefty draft from his cigarette. “That’s a good choice.” He squinted at me from under his bushy gray eyebrows, waiting.
We chatted a little about the price - and it became pretty clear that he was just a lonely old guy who loved growing things. He nursed plants back to health or grew them from little shoots in his alley, and every now and then he sold them to clueless people like me in “Giant Plant Sales”.
I told him I had a pick-up and would be back. “You’d better hurry,” he urged. “There might be a run on these babies.” Looking down the sleepy street, I doubted it, but I hustled home anyway.
I came back a few minutes later and he was petting a palm tree as he set in the back of a blue mini-van. “Take good care of him - found that one on the street on trash day a few months ago...”
As the van drove away, he turned to me. “Hope that wasn’t one you wanted,” he said, shrugging.
I assured him that it wasn’t, and as he loaded my chosen beauties into Rocky, he told me that he considers himself an abused plant shelter. “People just don’t take time to care about anything anymore,” he said sadly. “If it ain’t a video game, or computer somethin’, it ain’t worth their time.”
After we chatted for a few minutes, I started to get back in my truck. “Anything else catch your fancy?” he said as I turned to go.
“I only have $30.” I said, thinking he was just loathe to let such a silly girl out of his sight without taking some more cash off her hands.
“No, no.” He said, putting a fern and lacey-leafed plant in the back of the truck. “Here’s a couple more. Take ‘em and love ‘em... and bring ‘em back if ya need any help with ‘em. I’ll nurse ‘em back to health for ya or give ya tips if ya like.”
“Okay, thanks.” I said, looking happily at my truck-load of greenery.
I pondered as I drove away how I find it so much easier to strike up a conversation with these older characters then with my own generation. I think it’s because we’re not in competition. When I see a woman roughly around my age, we automatically size one another up - who’s more beautiful, who’s more successful, who’s got the best jewelry - whatever. It sounds so horrible and shallow when I write it down in black and white - and it is - but it still happens, subconsciously and constantly.
With “Rose” and the Plant Guy - it’s easy to talk and connect because we’re not checking out each other’s bling or body or boyfriend - we’re just understanding one another at the most rudimentary level. We connect because of a common love for good fruit or plants or foggy mornings in Dana Point.
There are so many surprisingly beautiful things in the small slices of Life. The world is cast with a broad spectrum of characters - interesting because of their beauties, quirks and imperfections. I hope that I can learn to look into people rather than past them - to see their soul rather then their stereotype. The fingerprints of God cover all of us - even the guy who cuts me off or the stylish woman who makes me feel inferior for a moment.
I need grace to see and appreciate these divine smudges, and to savor the moments rather than rush through them. So here’s to sweet peaches, “Giant Plant Sales” and Saturdays - and to the Roses, Plant Guys, and small-town folk of the world.