MCFADYEN’S MUSINGS – CORN AND PEACHES
By Bill McFadyen
Hurley Randall of Falcon went to work for my Dad at McFadyen Music about the time I entered the world. He stayed on the payroll until he left this world in 1990. His original role with the business was selling Wurlitzer pianos displayed at the Gillespie Street location, the store we always referred to as “The Warehouse.” We brothers played hide-and-seek between the rows of pianos during our occasional visits.
As the decades passed, piano sales moved to Cross Creek Mall and eventually to McPherson Church Road. Mr. Randall’s role moved to fleet management and to chief advocate for my father. If Dad needed something delivered or some errand completed, Hurley Randall was the method of completion.
In my teenaged summers in the mid-70s, I began to work in The Warehouse. As Mr. Randall served Dad, so did I serve Mr.
Randall. One of my favorite duties happened around 3 p.m. It became my job to say, “Yes sir” as the answer to his question, “Are you ready?” It was not my job (or anyone else’s that I witnessed) to ask where we were going. In his truck – always a Chevrolet, always from M&O downtown – we eased along Southern Avenue with the windows down and the air conditioner on. “The best way to keep from getting a speeding ticket,” he would say, “is to not speed.” We never got one.
Our destination was the soda counter at Massey Hill Drug Store. He ordered two vanilla milkshakes. They arrived in the same stainless cup in which they had been spun into creation along with a short water glass. I was there for the frozen sweetness on a hot summer day. Mr. Randall was there to harangue the waitresses, which suited me just fine, because when I slurped the bottom of my glass with the straw, Mr. Randall slid the balance of his shake over to me. Then, if Dad was in the office that afternoon, we would order one to go, and (slowly) backtrack to The Warehouse. I went back to the shipping table; Mr. Randall disappeared into Dad’s office.
There were two other things that Dad loved in the summer: Silver Queen corn and fresh peaches. If there was any question as to how Mr. Randall earned his keep – and there was not – it was answered by the appearance of Falcon-grown corn in bushel baskets in late June. Mr. Randall would arrive early in the morning, and when Dad walked into his office, the corn was on top of the air conditioning register. Dad would hand out a little – not a lot – to some of the employees, but most of it went to the downstairs refrigerator at our house.
Dad ate corn long ways, end to end, working from left to right, like the flow of a typewriter. Dad was a healthy guy, but not when it came to corn. Each row got its own knife full of butter followed by a dashing of salt. By the time he got to the last row, he could roll it on the plate where the melted oil and salt had pooled.
Then there were the peaches. Peaches grown in Mc Bee, S.C. I never made that trip with Mr. Randall. Based on the pace at which we would go Massey Hill Drug, it probably took him a couple of days to roundtrip to McBee, so I guess my parents did not want me on overnighters. Just like with the corn, Hurley would show up with a basket of peaches straight off the trees in McBee. He would take them into the darkened office and leave them on the desk. No clue of them was given in their first salutation of the day, but when the light flicked on, Dad would reverse out of the office, and he and Hurley Randall shared a couple of moments about the peach crop that year. Both Giver and Getter were obviously happy.
Dad ate his peaches peeled, with sugar, and in milk or on ice cream. Mom would occasionally concoct cobblers and such, but Dad was a purist to his peeled, sugary, milky chunks of gold.
After Hurley Randall died, I can remember hearing Dad lament the death of his supply chain to fresh corn and McBee peaches. There was a far greater depth to the loss, but the omission of that corn and those McBee peaches were a poignant reminder of adopted family gone from this world.
Since the dissolution of McFadyen Music, I have made sure that my primary employers were people who did substantial business with Hoke County Sand Company. Britt Riddle is The Man when it comes to growing sweet corn, and Tommy O’Brien and he are exceedingly generous with it to those companies that keep them in business. I try not to take vacation days in June for fear of missing out on the trickle-down theory of fresh corn distribution.
I was driving to work a few weeks back, and instead of continuing up Bragg Boulevard, I veered left and up the Haymont Hill. I passed Highland Presbyterian on my left, and just ahead in Tildon Downing’s parking lot, I saw the familiar pick-up truck with its wooden shelves built onto the bed and the telltale red baskets lined up on those shelves. I stopped for The Peach Man from McBee, SC. We traded Hey-Buds and winter highlights before getting down to the stress-free negotiation over a peck of peaches. I then inflicted upon myself the discipline of not eating one before arriving at my office.
Once there, I handed out a peach to anyone who wanted one. I sat at my desk and took out the oversized pocketknife in my top drawer, placed a paper towel in the middle of my desk, and began the dissection of the first fruit of the vine.
I make one cut from top to bottom on the highest ridge of my peach. Then I make angled wedges with each subsequent cut, lifting them out with the knife as they are formed, and eating the wedge right off the blade. Peach juice drips down my chin. It tastes like every summer vacation ever taken. It tastes like the love of two men gone from me. It tastes like boyhood.
The two chairs across my desk are empty. Or are they? I pause between slices just to confirm that there is no milkshake within my reach.