Conte, a journal of narrative writing.

The Fruits of Our Labor

A small farm sits to my left with one town ahead of me and one behind me. I'm on the border of Crofton and Davidsonville, in the countryside of Maryland's Chesapeake shores. They sell flowers at the farm - shades of fuchsia, purple and yellow - planted in a fresco on the front yard. This year they've made a butterfly, sowing the seeds in rows to shape both wings, and a narrow body in between the two. The patch of farmland sits on the cusp of the country and city. Head south to buy horse manure for your garden, go east to find chicken farms or back west to navigate the alphabet streets of DC.

I'm on my way home from my summer internship with an environmental group on M Street. While on break from college, my father - a high school drafting teacher also home for summer vacation - drives me around in his truck. We're trying to save gas, so I drive to the New Carrollton metro station on the orange line with my mother and he picks me up to come home. I ask him to close the windows so I can blast the air conditioning into my face, still sweating from the fog of the summer heat. I push my high heels aside as we cross over to the HOV lane and then again 15 minutes later to get off on our exit.

"Should we get corn for dinner?" my father asks as he turns the car at the tractor crossing sign into the gravel parking lot. Across the highway from the flower farm sits a gravel lot on the edge of a cornfield, cut out like a tab on the side of the road. The sign reads "Fresh Produce." In southern Maryland we grow our corn knee high by the Fourth of July, just like Grandpa used to say.

"Sure." I slip my shoes back on and step out into the humidity.

They're here every year. Neighbors in Davidsonville, Riva and Crofton stop by this little stand by the road for fresh produce. We wait through the first days of spring and the weeks of rain for the day when the farmers remove the silver chain from the entrance to the lot.

At the roadside stand, the sole produce cart, still attached to its tractor, holds stripes of colors - grass green cucumbers, ketchup red tomatoes and sandy cantaloupe. The fruit is fresh, but that's not what calls us from work or our homes. We drive to this tractor for the corn, hidden in sleeves of green teardrops stretched and waiting to be released from their cover. A young girl in a red cotton apron comes over and asks if we need help.

"I'd like four ears of corn, please." Dad says. "And a cantaloupe?" he says, turning towards me. I nod in response. After breakfast and lunch at the same shop for the past month, I'll take anything that comes in its original packaging.

Dad takes the cantaloupe the girl is offering, hands to me and asks if I know how to tell if it's ripe. (It reminds me of his mother, a Georgia peach, who stocked cantaloupe in her refrigerator during the summers.) I push my thumb into the eye of the fruit, the circular divot that connected the melon to the stem. The flesh absorbs the pressure. I bring the globe up to my face and press my nose against the same point, searching for a hint of that syrupy smell of freshly cut cantaloupe. The eye is supposed to smell the same as one would smell cut open. I hand it back to the girl and give my dad the go-ahead: "It's ripe." He smiles, happy I'm sure that something he's taught me has stuck.

The girl grabs a brown paper bag and wax pencil. It's less than a dollar for each fruit. She tallies the price on the bag and then snaps it open to fill with our order. She crunches the top down, exchanging the produce with the cash Dad pulls out of his silver money clip.

The bag fills the hot car with a must smell from the cornhusk and sweetness from the cantaloupe. The smells concentrate in this heat and make the car seem rotted. By buying our corn here in Davidsonville, we don't support our own establishments, but you can't get corn from the grocery store like this. You can't get it at Peaches either, where the owners bring out plastic bags full of corn shipped in from the Eastern Shore, stuck in a refrigerator in hopes that the vegetable will stay fresh longer. We come back to this tractor each year for this side of the road corn is sweet. It's warm from the sunshine and plump from the rain. Like us, it has been waiting for the late summer season to sweeten.

When we get home I'll shuck the corn for dinner, dropping the leftover cover back into the brown paper bag. We'll boil the ears with a few of the inner leaves, slather it in butter, shower it in salt and eat it attacking either in a spiral with columns or like a typewriter straight across or, like I do, prying the kernels off with the prongs of a fork.

When the chain goes back on the side of the gravel parking lot, we'll start our wait again for next year's bloom, for the end of winter and the rise of summer. Maryland's best seems to only come during the warmest months. What do we do in the winter without our corn or cantaloupe or crab?

Though Maryland fruit is well known by the locals, it's the blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) that the rest of the country associates with us. There's no crab like that of the Chesapeake Bay, and for that we've embraced this crustacean as our icon, slapping the eight-legged creature not only on our dinner plates, but also on our license plates and driver's licenses. Marylanders have pride for the blue crab. People come from all over the world for these creatures.

From late June to early September, cars line Riva Road waiting to get into Mike's Crab House parking lot. Riva houses no fast food restaurant or Target, no Main Street or boutiques, but the near 4,000 town members do share one fire station, one post office, one food market, one wedding site and one crab house. High school boys in polo shirts and khakis direct the patient drivers into parking spaces. One walks around the parking lot calling in the open spaces to his coworker sitting on a white plastic lawn chair at the lot's entrance. He relays the location of the space via walkie-talkie to the customer in the driver seat.