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Commentary: Magic of Earl’s Fruit Stand lingers in memories of past

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William Carter, columnist

William Carter is a retired longtime Franklin city employee and published author. He may be contacted at wcarterfranklin@aol.com.

There was another seed catalog in our mailbox today. It was a prize among the wasted paper of the 57th plea for me to join AARP and a $100-off coupon — but only if I acted now — toward the purchase of new gutters.

On the cover of the catalog is a glorious, close-up, color photo of a trellis full of fat, green sugar peas beaded with dew and nestled in a curtain of emerald leaves. The picture is punctuated in three places by pollen-dusted honeybees working the delicate, purple blooms. At the bottom of the cover, in bold, red letters, is the hint of more glory inside.

My breathing grows rapid and shallow. The hairs on my forearms rise as if reacting to a nearby lightning strike.

It is gardening time in Middle Tennessee, a time when that primal yearn for dirt beneath your fingernails is awakened by the scent of wild onions in the air, by the sounds of birds flirting with each other from tree to tree and by the sight of rain-wet pavement blanketed by the wind-blown blooms of forsythia and crabapple.

If you are a gardener of any kind, my brothers and sisters, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you aren’t, well then, bless your heart, and all I can say is that it pains me to know you are missing out on the anticipatory pleasure of awaiting those first sprouts from seeds you planted to poke pale green from the soil and unfurl their foliage to smile upon the sun.

Springtime, for me, has always been proof that all things are possible and magic is real. And that’s what this is column about — paying homage to magic that once was.

Many will remember, but many more, unfortunately, will not.

Once upon a time, on the banks of the Harpeth River, by the bridge along Franklin Road where the city limits sign used to be before the city got too big for its britches, magic resided in the form of a place called Earl’s Fruit Stand.

It was orchestrated over by a wizard and master showman named Earl Tywater.

Earl’s Fruit Stand wasn’t stylish at all — at least not in the calculated and overused definition of “style” that some try to shove down our throats these days. And it never pretended to be. Instead, Earl’s was peerless in its style and, still, one of the most wonderfully unpretentious and glorious places I’ve ever been privileged to visit.

Earl’s Fruit Stand sprawled and rambled and lived and breathed along the Harpeth. The old, wooden structure clung to her banks, seemingly, by sheer force of will. Some would call it ramshackle, maybe, or run down. Others looked upon Earl’s as the personification of that weird and eccentric aunt or uncle you loved and wanted to be like, but whom the more prim and proper members of your family chose to pretend didn’t exist.

I always thought of Earl’s Fruit Stand as having been conjured up as a character in a Ray Bradbury short story.

Sometimes, Earl’s reminded me of a county fair viewed for the first time through the eyes of a child. At other times, it was like a slow, summertime stroll through the garden with your granny. Whatever the season, Earl’s always welcomed you with the promise of gifts to your senses.

In spring and summer, Earl’s was like a celebration gone gleefully mad with a riot of strutting colors from tray upon tray and pot upon pot and basket upon basket of blooms from darn-near any flower you could imagine.

Inside, hanging from the low, almost claustrophobia-inducing ceilings were cured hams, dried gourds, birdhouses and strung peppers. The wooden floor was a tripping hazard of boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables, bins of seeds by the pound and gumball machines with prizes inside. There were ice-filled coolers of six-ounce soft drinks, and the place smelled of dust and age and potting soil and apples and historical mysteries.

And in the fall, oh, in the fall, Earl’s Fruit Stand became Pumpkinland.

There were rides at Pumpkinland, and a maze of hay bales on the back property, and a giant, concrete gorilla.

There was always a line of yellow school buses from far and wide snaking down Franklin Road when Pumpkinland was open, and crowds of laughing, face-painted kids accompanied by grown-ups wishing to be again the children they once were.

The place had candied apples and cotton candy and live goats and chickens and rabbits. There was a monkey there one year, and a camel, too. And, oh, yes, there were pumpkins. Thousands of pumpkins.

Some were tiny and could fit in the palm of your hand, but most were the perfect size for Jack-o’-lanterns. But the pride of Pumpkinland were the giant pumpkins — giant, I tell you, and big enough for a man to stand upright in — that always appeared overnight, under the cover of darkness, by magic, of course, from a place only Mr. Earl knew of, a place he kept secret.

I used to get all of my gardening supplies there, but it’s long gone now. Earl’s Fruit Stand has been replaced by brick-and-glass buildings of a calculated “style” probably birthed in a boardroom by a self-proclaimed “urban visionary” who never even read Ray Bradbury.

If you haven’t already figured it out, I really miss Earl’s Fruit Stand.

But mine are just the memories and musings of an old man and don’t mean much to anyone but me. And, of course, I know if there’s one thing that we’ll never be able to outrun, it’s progress, however it may be defined.

I’ll just be content to remember that once upon a time, on the banks of the Harpeth, magic resided in a rambling, old building on a little piece of land where camels and rabbits once roamed.

I can only hope it’s now haunted by the ghosts of all those great pumpkins.

William Carter is a retired longtime Franklin city employee and published author. He may be contacted at wcarterfranklin@aol.com.

Magic of Earl’s Fruit Stand lingers in memories of past

There was another seed catalog in our mailbox today. It was a prize among the wasted paper of the 57th plea for me to join AARP and a $100-off coupon — but only if I acted now — toward the purchase of new gutters.

On the cover of the catalog is a glorious, close-up, color photo of a trellis full of fat, green sugar peas beaded with dew and nestled in a curtain of emerald leaves. The picture is punctuated in three places by pollen-dusted honeybees working the delicate, purple blooms. At the bottom of the cover, in bold, red letters, is the hint of more glory inside.

My breathing grows rapid and shallow. The hairs on my forearms rise as if reacting to a nearby lightning strike.

It is gardening time in Middle Tennessee, a time when that primal yearn for dirt beneath your fingernails is awakened by the scent of wild onions in the air, by the sounds of birds flirting with each other from tree to tree and by the sight of rain-wet pavement blanketed by the wind-blown blooms of forsythia and crabapple.

If you are a gardener of any kind, my brothers and sisters, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you aren’t, well then, bless your heart, and all I can say is that it pains me to know you are missing out on the anticipatory pleasure of awaiting those first sprouts from seeds you planted to poke pale green from the soil and unfurl their foliage to smile upon the sun.

Springtime, for me, has always been proof that all things are possible and magic is real. And that’s what this is column about — paying homage to magic that once was.

Many will remember, but many more, unfortunately, will not.

Once upon a time, on the banks of the Harpeth River, by the bridge along Franklin Road where the city limits sign used to be before the city got too big for its britches, magic resided in the form of a place called Earl’s Fruit Stand.

It was orchestrated over by a wizard and master showman named Earl Tywater.

Earl’s Fruit Stand wasn’t stylish at all — at least not in the calculated and overused definition of “style” that some try to shove down our throats these days. And it never pretended to be. Instead, Earl’s was peerless in its style and, still, one of the most wonderfully unpretentious and glorious places I’ve ever been privileged to visit.

Earl’s Fruit Stand sprawled and rambled and lived and breathed along the Harpeth. The old, wooden structure clung to her banks, seemingly, by sheer force of will. Some would call it ramshackle, maybe, or run down. Others looked upon Earl’s as the personification of that weird and eccentric aunt or uncle you loved and wanted to be like, but whom the more prim and proper members of your family chose to pretend didn’t exist.

I always thought of Earl’s Fruit Stand as having been conjured up as a character in a Ray Bradbury short story.

Sometimes, Earl’s reminded me of a county fair viewed for the first time through the eyes of a child. At other times, it was like a slow, summertime stroll through the garden with your granny. Whatever the season, Earl’s always welcomed you with the promise of gifts to your senses.

In spring and summer, Earl’s was like a celebration gone gleefully mad with a riot of strutting colors from tray upon tray and pot upon pot and basket upon basket of blooms from darn-near any flower you could imagine.

Inside, hanging from the low, almost claustrophobia-inducing ceilings were cured hams, dried gourds, birdhouses and strung peppers. The wooden floor was a tripping hazard of boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables, bins of seeds by the pound and gumball machines with prizes inside. There were ice-filled coolers of six-ounce soft drinks, and the place smelled of dust and age and potting soil and apples and historical mysteries.

And in the fall, oh, in the fall, Earl’s Fruit Stand became Pumpkinland.

There were rides at Pumpkinland, and a maze of hay bales on the back property, and a giant, concrete gorilla.

There was always a line of yellow school buses from far and wide snaking down Franklin Road when Pumpkinland was open, and crowds of laughing, face-painted kids accompanied by grown-ups wishing to be again the children they once were.

The place had candied apples and cotton candy and live goats and chickens and rabbits. There was a monkey there one year, and a camel, too. And, oh, yes, there were pumpkins. Thousands of pumpkins.

Some were tiny and could fit in the palm of your hand, but most were the perfect size for Jack-o’-lanterns. But the pride of Pumpkinland were the giant pumpkins — giant, I tell you, and big enough for a man to stand upright in — that always appeared overnight, under the cover of darkness, by magic, of course, from a place only Mr. Earl knew of, a place he kept secret.

I used to get all of my gardening supplies there, but it’s long gone now. Earl’s Fruit Stand has been replaced by brick-and-glass buildings of a calculated “style” probably birthed in a boardroom by a self-proclaimed “urban visionary” who never even read Ray Bradbury.

If you haven’t already figured it out, I really miss Earl’s Fruit Stand.

But mine are just the memories and musings of an old man and don’t mean much to anyone but me. And, of course, I know if there’s one thing that we’ll never be able to outrun, it’s progress, however it may be defined.

I’ll just be content to remember that once upon a time, on the banks of the Harpeth, magic resided in a rambling, old building on a little piece of land where camels and rabbits once roamed.

I can only hope it’s now haunted by the ghosts of all those great pumpkins.

William Carter is a retired longtime Franklin city employee and published author. He may be contacted at wcarterfranklin@aol.com.

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