The salesman behind the counter glowered. It was a gale-force scowl that started at his hairline and rolled downward till it ran out of face.

“Are you back, AGAIN?”

It was a Saturday morning at the seed and feed store. The hometown seed store is the last honest bulwark against the encroachment of big-box mega-stores.  It is a bastion of individuality where a gardener can find eccentric products of yesteryear alongside new horticultural advances, a place where salespeople know your dog’s name or ask things like, “So how’d that collard seed do, the organic we special-ordered for ya last fall?”

However, unlike the Wal-Marts and Home Depots which are cut with the same cookie-cutter, your hometown seed store also may be subject to salespeople with — how to put this? — strong personalities.

The salesperson in question on that recent morning was scowling across a linoleum-topped counter. His balled fists (each about the size of a Hormel canned ham) rested on a yellowed pattern of happy dairy cows.

“NEXT, please!” He turned to another customer who was buying onion sets and early peas.  Behind her in line was a couple who were wrestling forward a sack of chicken feed the size of a sofa.

“Mizzz Smith,” he said slowly, like he was reminding a demented child of her name, “we’re real busy now filling orders. No one’s got the time for more of your questions.”  He said the word like it was a spinal tap.

“We have customers with serious problems like plum curculio worms on their fruit trees.” With that, he chugged away down an aisle.

A Phorid fly moves in for the kill

“What seems to be the problem, darlin’?” came a kind voice. The owner of the voice was Purvis Gaines. He is a prolific grower of blueberries.

“It’s the fire ants, Purvis. They’re back, and nothing I do seems to slow them down.”

Purvis nodded in that comforting, flannel-shirt way of Southern men who let a woman spill her problems and then make the world all better with a monosyllable. “Yep.”

“All the products promise they’ll kill the queen,” I blubbered, “but they never do. They only kill the mound.”

I hitched the cuff of my jeans an inch above my ankle socks to show the latest batch of fire ant bites. Five pink welts with yellow centers ringed my leg.

“I came here today to see if there was anything new against fire ants for 2010, that I maybe hadn’t tried,” I said. “Do you know of anything?”

“Well,” Purvis offered, “There’s this new fly I heard of that bites the heads off ants. Don’t know whether they got that yet in Alabama. Maybe someone at the university could tell us.”

Us. I liked the sound of that. Me and Purvis Gaines in this together. Two humans against the fire ant queens. Out to make the pastures safer for blueberries and gardeners.

One dead, headless fire ant

“Can’t hurt to make some phone calls, can it?” Purvis said, moving me out the door and into the parking lot. “We could call over to Auburn University on Monday morning and see who knows about the fire-ant eatin’ flies.”

I felt all grateful and confident again. See? That’s the thing about a seed and feed store. You go there with a problem, and you leave with a solution.

I glanced back toward the store and thought for a moment I saw a face in the window.

It looked like it was saying “THANK YEWWWW.”

But I can’t be sure.

Gita M. Smith

Gita M. Smith

Gita M. Smith is a former Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer who covered Alabama -- yes, the whole state -- for the paper's national desk where she fell under  the dangerous influence of Keith Graham and Ron Taylor.  She writes flash fiction at 6S, Thinking 10 and fictionaut.

  1. Michael J. Solender

    Does Purvis make house calls? Or at least consult long-distance? I need answers! Great piece! How DID the collard seed do?

  2. I could see the proprietor’s hands up around his mouth in the silent “Thank You,’ even see his feed-store proprietor’s apron, pocket protector an’ all…imagining the barrels with huge scoops’ handles protruding.

    I’ll certainly return here to ‘git my [own] South [back] on.

    Col. DD Peattie
    Hon. Order of Kentucky Colonels

  3. This was a wonderful look at how soothing the simple approaches can be. Anyone with a name that purrs like “Purvis” can make it all better. Fun read.

  4. Mike Handley

    The simple description of the far-ant bites had me remembering unpleasant things. Glad you set the mood with the ham-fisted clerk of the walk. Made my dimples do a 180, and that’s good exercise. As was this piece.

  5. Actually, there is a product I like very much that works for about 5 months between applications. It’s definitely pricey, but it really wipes out the mounds and queens. Over ‘N Out. If you treat your yard in March you should be fire ant-free ’til August.

  6. Cliff Green

    I beat far ants a long time ago. I don’t go out of the house between March and late October. I’m real white, but I don’t have any bite marks on me.

  7. You and PURvis again, eh? So! Got somethin goin on?

    Actually, having only sampled the services of three (3) feed stores in my life, I have yet to meet Purvis.

    The North Fulton Feed Store seems to be owned and operated by a taciturn gent in his mid 50s who seems to measure his words tightly – to males, that is. Bring in an animal-loving female and he blossoms into a chatty Cathy, sprouting alternative feed nodules like a wisteria vine conquering a stout pine.

    The Sawnee Feed Store, more than a few miles up Georgia 400, boasts several members of the male clan, but Travis is the one who usually waits on us. About a buck twentyfive, with a wispy beard and glasses, he seems like a dropout from Appalachian State who never found a major. Even when I tried to return a gate that I had mismeasured, but which miraculously turned out to be the right size, Travis withheld any trace of judgement in his demeanor; as he did when I returned his metal fence-post puller, saying we’d found a better one at Tractor Supply.

    And then there’s Rucker’s, even further up the road off Georgia 369. There, a lean Amazon resembling Allison Janney sashays up to the register to take your order. And your measure. It appears that this wench has yet to find a cowboy who rose to her standards. If he did, would he survive?

    Now, about those fire ants…what ever happened to gasoline and matches?

    Nice post, Ms. Geeter.

  8. Coming from a big city, and resettling in a smaller city, haven’t experienced first-hand this kind of encounter, although it seems one might find similar types at our Home Depot here more so than the ones back in the States. Loved the camaraderie and shared knowledge expressed by Purvis who appears to be really into his work in order to do some good for his neighbors. Even if he’s just that way because he knows it’s good for business, that kind of personality grows on ya.
    Excellent vibes coming off reading this, Gita.

  9. Frank Povah

    Gita: what a lovely story. I lament the gradual demise of the local “feed and seed” (produce stores in Australia). Their replacements, along with the supermarket, are part of the biggest con ever perpetrated on the buying public. One day I shall write of Roth’s General Store in Mudgee, New South Wales.

  10. Great job setting the mood. Makes me long for the rural life… well, actually makes me long to be an old guy in a feed store. Ah, it must be sweet. Reminded me of the fellers who used to hang around the drug store right across from the square in Monroeville. such a true glimpse into an underappreciated slice of Americana.

  11. Gita, a perfectly worked story! I enjoyed it immensely. Thank you for sharing it with us.


  12. Cliff Green

    Good piece, darling.
    Some of you people out in Gwinnett County will have to help me, but there used to be an authentic feed and seed store right in downtown Lawrenceville. I can’t remember the name of the place, but several years ago, my wife and I bought a roll of “hog wire” out there and made our own tomato cages to use here in downtown Atlanta.
    Is the place still there? It’s hard to believe the business survived as long as it did.

  13. Terri Evans

    Only Southerners could comprehend the true and empathetic gift of a well-timed, “yep.” Gita, you are a Dew right woman!

  14. golly that makes me relive that wonderful smell of long ago. it was in a feed and seed with lots of open containers of feed and seed….. a single lightbulb hanging loosely from the ceiling….. what a place .. now forever gone with the breeze……

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