Magic at the Market
“Get up. Let’s go!”
My Nana’s harsh vibrato reached my bed upstairs. I lay reluctant, ever so slightly rubbing my swollen, crusty eyes with my pudgy hands.
I quickly understood the reasoning for her beckoning. It was Saturday morning. 9 am. Time for the Westhampton Beach Farmer’s Market.
Her plea proved persistent, and I spilled haphazardly from my untidy bed, fumbling for a clean outfit to wear among my mess of clothing. Once equipped with a suitable outfit, I drudged on out the door-kicking up gravel the whole entire way.
As a tween, the farmer’s market represented obscurity. A foreign place, filled with scents, foods, dishes, trinkets, and memorabilia that was uncommon to my provincial nose, tongue and eye. My stubbornness that day was result of my reluctance to accept new things. Different things.
Upon arrival, we walked toward the main entrance of the litter of white tents. I stood rigid, and looked out at the sea of foreign items. The tents, their vendors, and their products stared right back at me. Mysterious artisanal cheeses lended a potent aroma to the air. Lavender lingered in the breeze. A farmer and his calloused hands doled out greens to a buyer.
My Nana had the pleasure of dragging me-a recalcitrant, bratty tween-from vendor to vendor. First was the cheese man. I eyed the cubes on the table, bearing names I did not recognize. Nana talked to the man, and he amiably suggested I sample one of the types he had on display. Nana looked at me with a piercing stare. Her mouth was an upturned semicircle but her eyes conveyed the simple message: ‘Allegra if you don’t eat this you will appear rude and that will be embarrassing’.
In my mouth it went. A sharp taste pierced my unsuspecting taste buds. My lips curled and I stifled a low gag. My Nana looked at me, disgust in her eyes. She murmured a quick ‘thank you’ to the cheese man and escorted us swiftly away from his stand.
I spit out the cheese and a messy apology.
“I’m sorry, I can’t…I can’t help it I… I hated the taste.”
I could read the disappointment in her face, but on we walked down the procession line of tents. We then stopped in front of a decorated stand, clad with rustic knits and delicate doilies. On top the doilies sat smooth soaps as well as various washes all-as I read the small label and deduced-made of sheep’s milk.
“How weird” I thought. Why would anyone want sheep’s milk in their soap? This strange concoction baffled me, someone who was comfortable only using popular store brand soaps and shampoos.
The vendor lady, smelling faintly of musk and cinnamon, spoke to us from behind her makeshift counter. She briefly lectured my Nana and I about the massive benefits of these luxury soaps. My Nana looked the women straight on, listening endearingly. My eyes darted straight to her erratic hand motions, following the way her intonation rose as her hands animatedly jumped. My mind tuned out her message, one that I considered boring. Her voice turned to static, meaningless white noise.
“Allegra, do you want me to buy this nice soap for you?” The white noise was punctured by my Nana’s imposing question.
“Umm..no, I don’t think so. I don’t really want it.” I quickly fumbled for an answer and gave my Nana the first response I could think of.
My answer would have been fine, would have been totally appropriate if given a different context. But no, there I had stood the entire time the woman was speaking to us, one hand on the opposite arm, stoic body language, lips ever so slightly pursed, eyebrows furrowed with disgust of the seemingly unknown and foreign product displayed in front of me.
The vendor lady’s hands fell to the table but she maintained the friendly face.
“No worries, you ladies have a nice day.”
We walked away from her stand, and I made sure to not look at my Nana’s face. I knew she was ashamed of my immature demeanor. I did little that day to assuage the tensions between me and my Nana. I had not only offended her, a lover of the unique farmer’s market, but also the market itself. My close mindedness had insulted a place where diversity and openness thrived.
The other week I returned to the market, 5 inches taller and 4 years wiser. I went once again with my Nana. As we walked in, she was greeted by her friends-the vendors. Their warm voices drifted through the air and it made me smile. This time, I carried with me some essentials. An open mind, carefully matured after years of absorbing information and my camera-ready to snap shots of the humans behind the market’s magic.
We glided from booth to booth, my Nana striking up conversation with her friends behind the tables and me standing idly by, ready to engage and take photos of her interesting friends and their diverse products.
She stopped at her friend the chicken farmer’s table. Their conversation was light and playful. He went behind his counter and gracefully pulled out a freshly frozen chicken, its flesh a rosy pink. His hands, stained with traces of dirt, reached over the counter and placed the chicken in my Nana’s hands. I snapped the shot. We parted ways from the chicken man, and I thanked him for letting me take his picture. He had given me the pleasure of capturing such a candid moment of friendship via a tangible memory.
On we walked past table of novelties, my eyes careful to absorb the grand sights of the scene. I caught a glimpse of a stand of exquisite accessories, some woven with delicate angora rabbit hair others decorated from true wool directly sheared from local sheep. People from all over town came to gather as well, giggling children running rampant and zigzagging down the path while parents shopped around, gorgeous dogs being walked by the most eccentric owners.
We paused at a dainty table filled with vegan baked goods, made with care and the purest ingredients one could find. The vendor women offered us countless free samples. I willingly took the gluten free brownie bite she extended my way, popping it into my mouth and savoring the amazing flavors. Gone was my reluctance to try new things. Gone was my ignorant fear of stepping out of my narrow comfort zone.
Countless stands we walked by, lettuce and cucumbers ripe as can be, green as the summer day is long, marked with specks of soil. And countless stands we walked by where the vendors extended a warm and meaningful greeting to my Nana and me, a hello given to a friend rather a prospective buyer.
The farmer’s market is magic. Simple and true. It is a collective place where authenticity can manifest itself and people can venture out to sell products that are made and grown with passion and love. It is a place of beautiful obscurity, of friendly hellos, of interesting flavor combinations.
Returning home from the market, I flipped through the pictures I had captured. A sense of admiration lit my face up as I viewed my shots of the vendors in their element. Just as their products and produce was carefully grown and constructed, so was my understanding. My understanding of the magic of the market was a notion that required careful tending and tiding. It was a gradual understanding of something that I had once considered so alien. Once I allowed myself to grow and accept the seemingly weird, this understanding of mine flourished. An openness that resonates with me, and transcends through the mystical market.