I love Better Boy tomatoes. His were the best. Sweet corn? His were so sweet they could almost be dessert. Bell pepper; okra and in season, muscadines? None better anywhere.
I could have filled a sack with his fresh produce and walked away without paying. I’d have soon said a dirty word in front of my mama than to not have paid for my produce. I’d pay and sometimes slip a little extra in.
He didn’t ring up my sale on a cash register; he wasn’t there and neither was a register. I’d slide my dollars into a slot in the top of a metal box with a sign hanging above it, a sign meticulously carved and painted with the words “Put Money Here.” He trusted the honesty of folks. This quaint little produce stand sitting next to the road under a cedar in front of his home on Chandler Road sat under another hand-carved and painted sign that read “Ed’s Self Service Country Market.”
He was tall, pale and pencil thin but he could work circles around just about anyone else. I’d see him squatting, pulling grass from his flower beds. I’d drive up and in two seconds, he’d hop to a standing position and without a wobble, walk my way. There is no way in the world I could so effortlessly hop from a squat to standing that quickly, and he had a dozen years on me.
It saddened me to the point I was down in the dumps for several days five years ago when I learned he had sold his place and was moving away. Eighty-eight years had taken a toll on him and he could no longer give his home, his garden and surrounding acreage the attention he felt they deserved. He sold out and moved to the Houston area to be near his son and daughter.
Anytime I drove by his home and saw him working in his yard, I’d stop and visit. Other times, I’d drop by and sit with him on his back porch and give him my undivided attention as he with a far away gaze, told of his days in the Seabees during World War II.
“Sometimes late in the afternoons when it’s quiet, I’ll sit out here and I swear I can hear taps from a soldier’s bugle coming across the pond and through the pines over on the hill. Nobody else can hear it but I hear it clear as a bell,” he once told me.
His great grandfather moved from Georgia, claimed the land and settling on property east of Ruston and built a little cabin on the site in 1845.
He pointed to his flag pole and flag fluttering in the breeze in his front yard and told me, “right there where that flag pole sits is where that little cabin was built.”
He lost his beloved Madge after 67 years of marriage and he lived alone in the big house on the hill.
After retiring from the furniture business in 1978, he built the big house for Madge and his two children on the old home place.
“I always like to see things grow and I planted a big garden. There was no way we could use all that produce I grew so I’d back my pick-up truck next to the road, put paper bags of produce there and a bucket with a little hand-painted sign ‘Put your money in the bucket.’ Then I got the idea of building a replica of an old country store. I built it small on slides where I could move it back to the barn after gardening was over. I’ve been doing that since around 1980,” he told me.
On this past Saturday, his earthly time ended and he was memorialized and laid to rest back at his home church and cemetery.
I can probably count on one hand the people who had the impact on my life this quiet, tall and slender man had. Ed Chandler was 92. I can just see him now making the acquaintance of Billy Graham and telling him all about his Better Boys tomatoes.