One morning in June of 2020, Robert Gregg got up before dawn, drove to a regional farmers’ market and bought a trailer-load of watermelons.
His weekday job, foreman of a six-man logging crew, was stressful. He hoped selling watermelons by the side of the road on the weekend would offer some relief.
Gregg returned home, made a sign and set up a makeshift produce stand near the highway in front of his home south of Brooksville.
The melons were sweet and sold themselves. There were more trips back to the market.
Over the winter Gregg and a friend put up an open-sided metal shed (with a watermelon red roof).
“I love the selling,” he said. “Someone down the line (in my family) must have been a pedlar.”
Perhaps that pedlar was Clyde Eaves, Gregg’s great uncle, who sold sweet potatoes and produce from his garden out of the back of his truck in Macon. Eaves, as did Gregg, came from the Butler community near Mashulaville, west of Macon.
Thursday afternoon Gregg, 49, with the help of his 9-year-old grandson, Racy Wilkinson, was doing a brisk business.
Gregg stands with his leg propped on a trailer loaded with melons (grown in south Florida). A score of cantaloupes sit on a platform under a small table laden with Chilton County peaches.
A cut watermelon sits on the back of the trailer. Gregg carves a slice, stabs it with his pocket knife and offers it to me. The melon is cold and surprisingly sweet.
I told him I’d bought one locally about two weeks ago that was unripe.
“I feel bad if I sell somebody a bad melon,” he said. “If it’s a bad melon I’m gonna make it right.”
While there is profit in selling a load of melons, Gregg says he’s not so much driven by the money as the parade of humanity drawn to his roadside stand.
“You meet all kinds,” he says. “I mean all kinds.”
As we talked, the steady stream of customers bore this out.
A woman with short-cropped scarlet hair in a black spandex workout suit bought a watermelon; three young women, one of them with tattoos and a child on her hip, wanted peaches; a dusty laborer just off work, asked Gregg if he had yellow-meat melons (no) before making his purchase.
“(Highway) 45 is the main highway to the Coast,” said Gregg. “People from the North stop. They are fascinated with watermelons. They’ll take pictures of them.”
Gregg is understandably secretive about his supplier — he asked me not to name the farmers’ market he frequents. He says he’s at the market by 4:30 or 5 in the morning. He deals with the same vendor each time, and he always samples the merchandise before buying.
The most common comment he hears from customers?
Gregg answers without missing a beat: “Are they sweet?”
Being a roadside fruit pedlar isn’t for everyone. “My wife doesn’t like it,” he said. “She called me this afternoon while I was at work and wanted to know when I would be home. She was tired.”
Jean Gregg shouldn’t be surprised by her husband’s love for the give-and-take of his weekend business.
“When we’re on vacation, we stop at road stands,” he said. “Watermelons, produce, boiled peanuts. You don’t know what ideas you’ll pick up.”
It’s a pleasure watching a man do a thing he thoroughly enjoys.
“I’ve always wanted to do this,” Gregg said.
Birney Imes ([email protected]) is the former publisher of The Dispatch.
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.