‘Apple Man’ let new guy feel welcome at market

ApplesI FIRST GOT to know the “Apple Man”—Lester W. Deal—during the early 1980s on my first day as a seller at the Fredericksburg Farmers Market. I had sold produce and eggs door-to-door since 1961 and also at four other locations around Fredericksburg so I already had a customer base.

The evening before, I had picked two pickup loads of very large Superstar cantaloupes from my 1-acre patch. I left half of a pickup load at my roadside stand and loaded the other half

of that load onto my already loaded pickup.

I had built two-by-four sides on the pickup as high as the cab. The two-by-four panel that would normally go above the tailgate was left off.

I got to the market early so I could get the first parking spot next to William Street. At that time all State Route 3 traffic was funneled downtown because there was no Blue and Gray Parkway. My truckload of cantaloupes was quite a visual feast for all the traffic going east on William Street.

Wives would be yelling to their husbands to pull over and park—and they did. After the first few dozen sales, I could open the tailgate and a person driving by would see solid cantaloupes from the bed of the pickup as high as the cab. As they were sold, more would roll down taking their place. By midday, only a few dozen cantaloupes were left near the cab. I had to climb up into the truck to bring the cantaloupes to the rear of the pickup.

Mr. Deal (as I called him) had been parked in front of me, facing south on Prince Edward Street, with a load of apples and peaches. He said he had sold out over an hour earlier than normal. He very generously helped me with my last sales. Business was so brisk that I was even able to sell out of all the “cull” cantaloupes after selling all the perfect ones.

Mr. Deal was very delighted with business that day. He suggested we should always park near to each other because our different products seemed to complement one another and draw in more of the same type of customers. I especially enjoyed trading whatever I had in season for his peaches.

Asparagus was his favorite. Everybody referred to Mr. Deal as the “Apple Man.” To me he was the peach man. His wife was known as the “Apple Lady” (Hazel J. Deal) in Sperryville where she owned and ran an antiques store on the main drag. She also sold apples, cider and peaches from a display in front of her shop.

Mr. Deal says that my dad was his best friend in Fredericksburg. My dad would go to the farmers market and visit with him most every day. One day Mrs. Deal sent my father a container of sliced peaches to eat as a snack while he was at the market. Mr. Deal asked him, “How did they taste?” My dad responded, “Like more.”

Each day of that week continued on with the same conversation along with a larger container of peaches each day. When the container size reached a quart, my dad said, “Just right!”

Some days Mrs. Deal sent me a homemade biscuit with Virginia ham.

I had started taking Jessica with me to the farmers market when she was 2 years old. I had fixed her a cubbyhole directly behind me, in the bed of the pickup, where I stood selling produce. I had also erected a beach umbrella shielding her and myself from the sun. Immediately, after I set up one day, Mr. Deal handed me a ham biscuit. I took one bite of the biscuit and set it on a shelf near Jessica. I became so busy with customers that I did not have time to eat the biscuit.

I kept noticing out of the corner of my eye that Mr. Deal would look in my direction and laugh. I was beginning to think that perhaps I had left shaving cream on my face. A slight lull occurred. I turned to reach for the biscuit only to see Jessica put the last bite in her mouth. It was amazing what she could eat with one tooth. The tot was apparently a “throwback” to her grandfather. After that, Mrs. Deal always sent two biscuits.

A few years later the twins were born at MCV in Richmond. The day I brought Ellen and the girls home,

Mr. Deal was sitting in his pickup truck on my driveway. Mrs. Deal had cooked a complete roast beef dinner. It was still hot. By this time, Jessica had all of her teeth.

The last year I personally sold produce at the Fredericksburg Farmers Market was 2003. Emmie and I would work the roadside stand at my farm in Caroline County on U.S. 17. Savannah would go with Jessica to the Fredericksburg Farmers Market on Saturdays. Mr. Deal and Jessica’s last year at the Fredericksburg Farmers Market was 2006.

Mr. Deal still sells apples in Sperryville on pretty days. He told me recently that, last spring, a Japanese man in his 90s stopped at his place in Sperryville. They instantly recognized each other from having met in northern Japan (near the Russian border) where Mr. Deal served, post-World War II. His friend from Japan had brought his own interpreter with him. They reminisced for some time. Mr. Deal says he cannot believe how small the world has become in his lifetime.

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