Up ahead on the left is a fruit stand that I always stop at when I come through this part of the country in the summertime. Today, even though it’s 31 degrees, my old friend Arvold is sitting beside his truck under the corrugated aluminum roof that protects his tomatoes and peaches and butterbeans and sweet corn from a broiling July sun. It’s a long way from summer, but Arvold is always there.
“Hey there you old coot,” like he says to everyone who stops by, no matter their age. “Where you been traveling.”
“I’ve been all over here and yonder,” I say as he spits a wad of Redman into the cold dirt.
He is 68 years old, got hit a little too hard in the head in Vietnam by a shell or an unruly woman during a little R&R, and he claims it cured his cancer. That is a boast of which I am not too sure about, yet he’s told me this tale 100 times, just in case I forgot the mysterious ways of the Good Lord.
“I still ain’t got no cancer,” he says. “That knock upside the head gave me a pass. It ain’t no beautiful life, though. I got the distemper from my dog.”
“I’m not too sure you can get that from a dog,” I say. “Might be the flu.”
“No sir,” he says convinced. “O’Henry gave it to me when we wuz riding in the truck last week.”
I decide not to argue with a man who did two tours for his country in an unpopular war that he didn’t sign up for, and who carries a piece of metal in his abdomen to prove it. O’Henry, his Heinz 57 hound, looks pretty sick too as he leans against Arvold’s muddy truck tire.
“You got any of them Strawberry MoonPies for me today?” asks Arvold.
“I’m between trips and I don’t have any on me,” I say, embarrassed since that is pretty much my main job. “I’ll have some the next time I come up this way and I’ll bring you some extras.”
“If the distemper don’t kill me first,” he says lapsing into a coughing fit that sounds like wet gravel rolling around in a galvanized bucket.
We talk a little while longer about football and Steve Spurrier and fishing and women. He loves the women, especially widows. Meets them at various churches around town. He claims membership in at least six congregations. I guess they don’t check that stuff too closely these days.
“When a woman’s husband moves on up the road to the next phase,” he says, “It’s an opportunity to show her what she’s been missing.”
He grins a big gold tooth. I laugh. He comes from a different time, an old man chasing old widow women. I wonder if one day I will be reduced to that, but I try not to linger on the thought.
“You gotta be careful around them widow women,” he says cautiously, one eye squinted into the breeze. “Sometimes they lie about the death of their significant other and he shows up while you are on a date at the Pizza Hut. It can get a little rowdy.”
I take him at his word.