Pickin’, shellin’ and tellin’

Tomatoes “Make sure they’re not too soft, boy. I don’t want tomato juice all over the backseat of my Buick.” My first lesson in choosing tomatoes, around 1972. I think about those words from my grandfather this time of year as tomatoes, green beans and other fresh vegetables are so plentiful.

Granddaddy had spent fifty years working on the railroad, first in Mississippi, then in Tennessee.  He started before the Gulf, Mobile & Northern merged with the Mobile & Ohio to become the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio. He retired when the GM&O merged with the Illinois Central. While he said he retired because he didn’t like the idea of a GM&O-IC partnership, his age and health also played a part in his decision.

I will always be grateful that he moved to Pascagoula, Mississippi to live out his last years with my family. He had an apartment with a little front porch in our backyard. Come summertime, my mother would give Granddaddy and me the assignment to fetch fresh

My Granddaddy, Dewey Pittman, beside his prized Buick LeSabre

My Granddaddy, Dewey Pittman, beside his prized Buick LeSabre

vegetables for her to cook for supper. I had just learned to drive and he and I would pile into his 1967 Buick LeSabre, of which he was so proud, and hit the road in search of goodies for the table. My parents figured that I could get practice driving without too much danger since that car was about as big and strong as a GM&O RS-3 diesel locomotive.

Our favorite spot was a vegetable stand near Tillman’s Corner, just across the Alabama line. We’d get on Old Highway 90 and and point the snout of that big Buick toward the east and light out with all eight cylinders rumbling under the hood. I was driving on the “4-lane,” by then but Granddaddy and I preferred the scenery on the old coast highway to Interstate 10, the quicker route. We would pass yards with chickens in them and old service stations still operating with pumps that had the little ball at the top that vibrated and looked like a bubble as gasoline flowed through the hose. Eventually, we’d stop at the vegetable stand.

Continuing education

I got quite the extracurricular education on how to pick the best looking tomatoes, butter beans and black-eyed peas. “Be sure to get a few sorta green tomatoes, so they’ll ripen as the week goes on,” Granddaddy would say. “You don’t want ‘em to get ripe all at once.”

Copy of the timetable of "The Little Rebel," Granddaddy's favorite train

Copy of the timetable of “The Little Rebel,” Granddaddy’s favorite train

My coursework continued once we got back home and spent the next day or so shelling beans and black-eyed peas on his porch. As our fingers turned a little blue with the stains from pea shells, we talked about life. He told me stories like the one about the old engineer whose daughter and son-in-law had presented him with a cigarette lighter engraved with his initials on one side and a steam locomotive on the other. The proud engineer showed the lighter to everyone in the railroad shop before his next run. The next day, Granddaddy saw him lighting up with a wooden match. “Where’s your fancy lighter,” Granddad asked. “Well, I was so used to tossing dead matches out the window of the cab,” the engineer said, “I accidentally tossed my new lighter out as we went over a trestle.”

Or the one about the diner in Cairo, Illinois where a railroad man named Yankee Johnson advised Granddaddy to, “Tap that apple pie on the top with your fork before you eat it.” When Granddaddy asked why, Yankee, who stuttered, replied, “If a r-r-roach d-d-don’t run out of the p-p-pie, that means he’s still in there!”

When I told Granddaddy that some buddies and I had started a band, he said, “Who’s the leader of this awk’stra?” He seemed impressed that I would be the bandleader and then told me about the time my grandmother had made him take her to see “that Russian Sympathy” in concert. His personal musical preference leaned more toward Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs than classical “sympathy” concerts.

So now when my wife Gail and I head for the farmers market in search of tomatoes, I make sure to pick a few ripe ones and a few green ones. And we’ve never ended up with tomato juice on the backseat before we got home.

Click here to download Dewey’s Tune, a song Les wrote about his grandfather, and other Les Kerr music!

Text and photos copyright 2013 by Les Kerr. Visit www.leskerr.com

About Les Kerr

Les Kerr is a songwriter, recording artist, journalist and author originally from the Gulf Coast now based in Nashville, Tennessee. Learn More about Les at www.leskerr.com
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Pickin’, shellin’ and tellin’

  1. Florence Hupf says:

    Les, we’ve always had a lot in common that I’ve just been finding out since you’ve had this blog. I was always too busy trying to get you to sing, “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane.” instead of “visiting.” You sang that song SO well.

    Re. your blog today, and yes, it has to do with background. I was born in Grenada, and my grandparents took care of me while Mother worked in Memphis as a telephone supervisor. I learned something about picking some green tomatoes today, and I thank you. I have Pittmans on my maternal grandmother’s side….all over Miss.

    While I loved Memphis, and it was my home, my formative years, as well as every summer growing up, were spent in Grenada, Winona, Duck Hill, and part of the Delta. That whole area is like some kind of geographical womb for me. The swing my granddaddy made from chains and a plank of hardwood is still there. I miss it, and haven’t been back in 10 years, since the last great-aunt died.

    You’re a blessing, Les. Know that.

  2. Florence Hupf says:


  3. Randy Cross says:

    Hey, Les–

    I dearly loved “Pickin’, shellin’ and tellin’.” You know that I like stories, and that is a jim dandy. You had me right there in the LeSabre with you and your grandfather on your produce runs. I especially liked the roach in the apple pie and the man who threw his lighter out of the cab.
    Your friend,


  4. Debbie Downs says:

    Thank You Les. So enjoyed reading “Pickin’, shellin’ and tellin’.” I love stories like that. My fondest Memories are about My Grandparents. Was Blessed to have both sets growing up and well after I was married. My Dad’s parents were True farmers. So many Good Memories. Thanks again Les!

  5. Phillip Ellis says:

    Thank you Les for sharing such memorable stories. I have wonderful memories about growing up at the Loop, and living with my grandparents. I miss them still, and hope to see them again one day. Keep the tales coming.

  6. I loved this story… reminded me of my own granddaddy who died suddenly in 1977 when I was just learning to appreciate him as an adult. The song’s a really nice tribute to your grandfather..Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s