Friday, February 5, 1999, Thomaston, Alabama - George Washington is alive and well and living in Alabama, and at 69 years old, he isn't about to give up his post. You can find him these days treating people right, at his small produce stand in a small town 100 miles west of Montgomery.
On most days, you will see Washington at his "Thomaston Produce Market" a small, roadside stand, in a new, 10 by 20 foot, metal shed. But selling produce to the residents and visitors of Thomaston, Alabama is not all this man does. A resident here for ten years, he is very involved in the community. He is also the minister of the Primitive Baptist Church, in Jericho, a small town on the western edge of the Talladega Forest.
During my visit, a woman walks over from the bank next door and selects some tomatoes, apples and sweet potatoes, and puts them in paper bags. Washington weighs them and adds up the total price; "a dollar-twenty, eighty cents and one dollar - that's three dollars even." She looks concerned; "are you sure?" she asks. "That doesn't sound like much." After she leaves, I ask him why he doesn't charge more for his produce. "If you sell stuff at a price people can afford," he says, "they keep coming back."
It is hard to visit the American south - really visit it - without visiting the contrast in races. In this story, the contrast is somewhat positive, as reflected in a comment Washington makes during our conversation; "The white people are real nice to me," he says, with all the candor of a southerner. Indeed, the man across the street, "Bo" Drake, came over and extended his shed's roof out eight feet, and put up wide rails to display fresh fruit. Mr. Parker, Mrs. Phillips, Mr. Prichett and the Mosleys, who own the town's grocery store - "they're all good to me," he says.
George Washington drives the 230 miles to Birmingham and back once a week to pick up fresh produce. "This time of year," he says. "I can sell most anything I can get - I can't find it though." In this small town, which is a good drive from good shopping, Thomastonians rely on Washington for other products. He sells honey, jellies, flowers and even products like floor tile, and can get his hands on something if somebody really needs it - a man stops by, looking for a tire, and Washington tells him he can get him one by tomorrow. He also works for the town, gardening and mowing lawns when needed. I ask him if there is anything he doesn't do around here. "One thing I don't do is sit down in my chair," he says. "I'm on the move all the time."
Washington has had a life on the move, as a long-haul truck driver for 33 years. He was born and raised in Sweetwater, Alabama, in 1930 and grew up during the depression and the Big War. His first wife died over two decades ago, after an 18-year marriage. But he is doing well, now - he has remarried and has two daughters and five grandchildren, and he greatly enjoys running his produce stand. "I'll be doing this as long as I'll be able to get around," he says. "I love doing this, and I love to be here and meet people - I love it!" He treats everyone with sincerity and respect, and it is apparent he is highly regarded in this town.
"George Washington is a real nice person; outgoing and very helpful," says Mayor Patsy Summerall. "Whenever we have activities in town, he is there to lend a hand." Summerall visits the stand weekly to gather a healthy variety of produce. In the summer she finds fresh tomatoes, squash, onions and watermelons among the bins of plenty. In the winter, she can get bananas, apples, oranges, peanuts, sweet potatoes and other wholesome foods, and if she needs tile for her bathroom, he could probably get that, too. Thomaston's 598 resident's are lucky to have someone who can produce the items they need to live by, and do it with such congeniality. "I want to live and let live," George Washington says. "I want to do what's right."
"I tell you, I'm crazy about them apples, and oranges and sweet potatoes!"
Seeds of Love, Bounty of Pride
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