The Oldest General Store in Texas

If you grew up in the rural South, you probably have at least one of these country stores tucked away in your memory.

For me it was Hughes Grocery near my grandparents house in Clay County, Mississippi. I remember the red Coca Cola chest cooler, the driveway paved with nearly as many bottle caps as gravel.

For many in Harrison County, Texas, that store is T.C. Lindsey & Co. General Store in Jonesville,  a curve in a country road just two miles from busy Interstate 20. The store has been around for 170 years, making it the oldest continuously-operating general store in Texas.

After bicycling the hilly roads of East Texas the other day, I stopped in to see if it looked the same as it did when I first visited 32 years ago.

I didn’t need any overalls, Lodge cast iron skillets or Raggedy Ann dolls (three major categories at the store), but I couldn’t pass up the No. 1 seller—hoop Wisconsin cheddar cheese sliced with a 100-year-old cutter.

Cheese at T.C. Lindsey General Store
Store manager Jon Miller slices hoop cheese.

T.C. Lindsey & Co. General Store is still jam packed with inventory, although the family is keeping it open for the memories rather than for profit.

I also came away with a couple of micro-brewed root beers . There is an extensive selection of vintage soft drinks and as many varieties of Spam as I have seen. Penny (well, nickel) candy. Honey and sorghum molasses from nearby farms. Bulk Spanish peanuts farmed 70 miles up the road in Naples, Texas.

You can get sun bonnets, kerosene lamp supplies and shoes from the 1970s, but many of the items are not for sale such as the rare 1896 wringer washing machine and the last cotton bale ginned in the area in 1973. The store just started taking credit cards a year ago.

It is such an iconic place that movies and TV shows have filmed there, most notably the 1985 TV movie remake of The Long Hot Summer bringing Don Johnson, Cybill Shepherd and Ava Gardner to Jonesville. One day, a limousine rolled up with Lady Bird Johnson, who came in to buy Cracker Jacks of all things. Her father ran a similar store in nearby Karnack.

A favorite tale is when an employee showed up for work drunk one day. At that time, coffins were sold upstairs. There was also a sofa upstairs, where the employee passed out. He was placed inside one of the coffins as a prank.

He never arrived at work drunk again..

Learn more about the store by watching this Texas Bucket List segment.

T.C. Lindsey & Co will be celebrating 170 years of operation with a birthday cake and bluegrass band on Nov. 4 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Can’t make that?.Another good time to stop by is Dec. 9 for its annual Christmas Open House from 11 a.m. to 2 pm.

T.C. Lindsey & Co. is located at 2293 FM Road 134, about 26 miles west of Shreveport. Take exit 633 off of Interstate 20. 

 

 

 

Seize These Fall Opportunities for Bicycle Rides

A few years ago the only cycling I did was the occasional trip down one of the bicycle paths along the Red River in Shreveport-Bossier City.

Until something caught my eye about the Heart of Hope LifeCycle in the countryside around Keithville. Perhaps it was the tug of helping a faith-based maternity home while riding my bike or perhaps it was the challenge of riding 26 miles.

For whatever reason, I forced myself out of my comfort zone and onto that 26-mile ride, one of the milder rides in the tour.

I finished. Surprisingly I was not pooped but invigorated.

So if you have ever considered one of those bicycle tours, but have been afraid to try, there are two good opportunities coming up in Bossier Parish in October. Notice, they are called tours, not races!

– Oct. 7 Seize the Road benefiting the Epilepsy Foundation of Louisiana. The tour starts at the Bossier Parish Courthouse in Benton and goes north along several roads, including Old Plain Dealing Road. You’ll ride along rolling hills, horse farms, rural churches, the town of Plain Dealing (some routes).

A few pictures from last year’s Seize the Road

  • Oct 21 Miracle Tour (formerly Run With the Nuns) benefitting Children’s Miracle Network and Christus Health Shreveport-Bossier. This ride starts in Haughton and follows rural roads of Bossier and Webster parishes, scenic areas near Lake Bistineau.

A couple of things you might see on the Miracle Tour

Barn along Highway 527 near Doyline
A home and a man with an interesting history–Harold Montgomery Road

Before I did my first ride, I drove the route first in my car so I could become a bit familiar with the terrain, especially any hills. I’ve signed up for these events alone and with a group. (I highly recommend a buddy, although both times I’ve started solo, I’ve found someone to ride with along the way).

As for the Heart of Hope, mark your calendar for the first Saturday in June. For even more tours covering a bigger geographic area and time frame, wheelbrothers.com is a great resource for Texas (and beyond) rides. Another October ride nearby: The Tour de Fire Ant Oct. 14 in Marshall.

The nice thing about these rides is that you can ride on some rural highways with a bit more security. Law enforcement is usually monitoring the ride and controls traffic at those first busy intersections. Routes are well-marked, and there are refreshments to pick you up so you can continue the ride. SAG wagons are available to literally pick you up if you can’t finish (which happened to me a few years ago when I was unprepared for the Tour de Fire Ant).

Next month, the air likely will be crisp — ideal cycling weather. And there’s something for everyone – milder routes of 12 and 26 miles for Seize the Road and 27 for Miracle Tour. Miracle Tour even has a five-mile Family Fun Ride. And, you can opt for a longer rides ranging from 41 to 70 miles.

In either case, there’s a post-ride celebration, which means plenty of good food. With all of that exercise you’ll have a good excuse to plop down in front of the TV for an afternoon of college football.

Here are links for each event. You can also access the routes to find the one best for you.

Seize the Road 2017

Miracle Tour 2017

 

 

 

Kickstands and Nightstands: The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

I love self-help books, anything to try to be more productive or happier.

I’ve  read The Happiness Project and other books by lawyer-turned-writer Gretchen Rubin and found some good takeaways.  At least I’m making my bed every day.

Rubin was in Dallas-Fort Worth last week to promote her newest book, The Four Tendencies. I was fortunate enough to meet her at a library book signing.

I became a Gretchen Rubin follower by first listening to the weekly podcasts she does with her sister,  a TV writer. The 35-minute podcasts are just enough to get me through Wednesday’s treadmill session. It’s my own version of “pairing” an unpleasant activity with something pleasant.” That’s a strategy Rubin suggests to build good habits.

Rubin has carved out a niche in the self-help genre by studying the relationship between habit and “tendencies,” or how we respond to expectations. Rubin describes them this way:

Upholder: Meets both outer and inner expectations  “Discipline is my freedom.”

Obliger: Meets outer expectations but resists inner expectations. “You can count on me, and I’m counting on you to count on me.”

Questioner: Resists outer expectations and meets inner expectations. “I’ll comply if you convince me why.”

Rebel: Resists both outer and inner expectations. “You can’t make me, and neither can I.”

A tendency is a narrow part of the complicated personality, but Rubin maintains exploring our tendencies helps us in adopting better habits. If you want to know your own tendency you can take her quiz here.

I am an Obliger, the most common tendency. Rubin is the rarer Upholder,  a bit over the top sometimes. Not only does she uphold the good habit of making her bed every day, she makes it up in hotel rooms — even on the day of checkout!

But lest you think Rubin believes “Upholder” is the the most desirable tendency and “Rebel” the least, not so she says. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Gretchen Rubin at North Richland Hills Library
A moment with Gretchen Rubin at North Richland Hills Library

I find personality profiles such as Myers-Briggs, StrengthFinders and DISC assessments fascinating.  Many years ago, author Florence Littauer spoke at our church on personalities based on Hippocrates’ four temperaments – Sanguine, Melancholy, Choleric and Phlegmatic. I discovered I was melancholy, and it was very helpful in understanding how I do things. Subsequently, author Gary Smalley used animals to characterize personalities –lion, otter, golden retriever or beaver.

Rubin’s The Happiness Project: Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closet, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list. She’s written other volumes on human nature, including Better Than Before and Happier at Home with equally interesting (and lengthy) subtitles.

I “read at” those books before discovering the podcast, which I find more entertaining, mainly because of the repartee with her sister, Liz Craft. The podcast tips can be easier to digest. One I plan to try soon  is a Power Hour, a time set aside each week for those nagging tasks–changing the batteries so my garage remote works, sewing a button on, etc. One of Rubin’s so-called Secrets of Adulthood is nothing is more exhausting than the task that’s never started.

Rubin uses a lot of catchy names  to help us understand ourselves and others. I have discovered I am an “underbuyer,” one who avoids making a purchase until the laundry detergent and gasoline tank are down to their last tablespoons. I think my husband is an “overbuyer” and the reason why we have four jars of bay leaves in the pantry.

On the Wednesday podcasts. there’s a lead topic with a “Try This at Home” takeaway. Last week, the lead  was “Write a ‘Ta-Da’ List” to recognize accomplishments. Another week, it was “September, the Other January.” On another episode, it was the less conventional “Do 10 Jumping Jacks” to boost energy.

I actually tried the latter at home, which I had not done since 1980s aerobics class. I did feel a little pepped up afterwards.

The podcasts end with  “Demerits and Gold Stars” where Rubin and her sister share their own good or bad habits of the week.

As far as making your bed every day.  Rubin says it’s her most-applied resolution.  Completing a task quickly can spark continued productivity throughout the day.

So, go make your bed, and have a great day!

 

Kickstands and Nightstands: Church of the Small Things

I don’t know what first led me to Melanie Shankle’s writing. She blogs at thebigmamablog.com on things such as raising her daughter. I’m an empty nester. Been There Done That.

Her blog features “Fashion Friday” every week, and I have never, ever been there or done that. I’m just not that into fashion. My daughters plopped me in front of the TV for multiple episodes of What Not to Wear, but I was not converted.

Sooooo why do I keep reading thebigmamablog.com, listening to the BigBoo podcast with fellow writer Sophie Hudson and buying Melanie’s books.

I think it’s Melanie’s ability to find the humor in the mundane some days and crazyiness in others and package that in a way that teaches a spiritual truth. She’s sort of an Erma Bombeck in the inspirational genre. Her latest book, In Church of the Small Things, she shares those moments of life in a way that makes you wish she was at your kitchen counter, sharing chips and queso with you.

She’s written books on marriage (The Antelope in the Living Room), child raising (Sparkly Green Earrings) and friendship (Nobody’s Cuter Than You). The latest is Church of the Small Things. I’m thrilled to be on the book launch team. That meant I got an advance copy of her book which releases Oct. 3. But this review is my own. In fact, I wouldn’t agree to be on the launch team if I wasn’t fairly sure I would enjoy the book.

The good news for you is there are some pretty neat incentives to pre-order the book before Oct. 3, including access to the first three chapters now, Church of the Small Things video study session one, family recipes, discounts on Melanie’s favorite things and more. Click on the image to pre-order and learn more about the freebies.

Church of the Small Things
Church of the Small Things

One connection I have with Melanie is that she’s an introvert. In a chapter called “The Glamorous Life of a Writer” she talks about driving to meet some friends for lunch and wishing she would get sick or plans would get cancelled and she could back out. That totally resonated with me, and I so appreciate her honesty.

In the end, she usually goes as I do too, and enjoys the whole experience. But I have to repeatedly battle with the urge to be a recluse and stay in my comfort zone.

In the 19 chapters in Church of the Small Things, Melanie humorously shares the “small things” that have shaped her life – owning dogs, battling exercising, overcoming bad bangs. Many of the chapters end with a combination of silly and serious “Things I Wish I Had Known” at various stages of her life.

Time has a way of collecting those small things and magnifying them into the big things. Each chapter includes some honest snapshots of her inner heart. In a chapter titled, “How Walmart and a Frito Pie Made All of the Difference,” Melanie recounts the days spent at her grandparents lake house in a way that made me want to sit down and write down everything I could remember about my own grandparents house.

And, then in the last chapter when she is sharing her family’s journey in starting a new church, she talks straight from the heart about her initial resistance.

“I am not a church plant kind of person. I am not organized. I am not overly spiritual,” she writes.

All of her inadequacies were racing together in her mind with the companion questions of why me, why not me and why is this so hard?

“At that moment, I felt God speak to my heart,” she writes, “saying ‘You need to quit asking ‘Why?’ and start asking me ‘Where?’ “

Where would you have me go?

Where would you have me serve?

Where are you leading me?

Getting to the where question is a game changer in that it takes the focus off of me and my failures and puts them on God, who has plans and a purpose for us. We just need to take the next step.

That’s where the “where” comes in.

So if you’re like me and keep waiting for big things to happen, this book makes you more aware of how everyday things can fit into God’s big picture.

“If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves,” –Emily Dickinson.

“Enjoy the little things in life, because one day you will look back, and realize they were the big things,” –Kurt Vonnegut

“Is my ordinary life actually significant? is it OK to be fulfilled by the simple acts of raising kids, working in an office and cooking chicken for dinner?”–Melanie Shankle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A 15-Minute Ride Along Route 66 in Tucumcari, New Mexico

Tucumcari, New Mexico, the largest town on a monotonous Interstate 40 stretch between Albuquerque, New Mexico and Amarillo, Texas , is a good place to  make a quick trip down memory lane.

You could gas up at the Flying J or Pilot travel stations on the interstate and be on your way, but on a recent trip we took 15 extra minutes to ride along the Historic Route 66 that goes through the edge of town.

Route 66 is called the “Mother Road” because the long route between Chicago and Los Angeles became famous as the one of the original U.S. highways. Built in 1926, it became synonymous with road trips and is immortalized in film and song. Today, pieces of the road remain as an iconic relic of early road tripping.

Most of the motor courts were abandoned after Holiday Inn Express and others opened along the interstate. Some have been restored. Others have  become eyesores. One still had a sign hanging out bragging that Clint Eastwood had stayed there as if it was making a last gasp for survival. (Indeed, Rawhide with Eastwood was filmed in Tucumcari until the early 1960s.

Blue Swallow Motel, Tucumcari, New Mexico
Blue Swallow Motel Tucumcari, New Mexico

The most photogenic is the Blue Swallow Motel, which looks like it is frozen in time with a Hudson automobile out front and rooms remodeled to every detail including vintage magazines and rotary dial telephones. We were driving through on a late afternoon but next time I’d like to pass through when the Blue Swallow and other businesses turn on their neon lights.

Tucumcari is making a decent attempt to draw nostalgia tourism with its Route 66 Museum and an annual festival called Rockabilly on the Route. Its community college also has a well-regarded dinosaur museum.

Maybe I’ll check out the museum on another trip, This time, I only saw the dinosaurs along old Route 66.

When you are traveling across country seeing how many miles you can cover, you don’t usually have time to take the backroads.  Sometimes just a small detour — 15 minutes in this case — is enough to quench your curiosity and make the drive more memorable.

 

Wal-Mart, Art & a Little Bicycling in Northwest Arkansas

I was a checker at Wal-Mart the day Elvis died. That’s where I was 40 years ago today. It was the summer after my sophomore year in college that I spent some time working at Wal-Mart, which recently had opened in my hometown.A fellow employee, or I suppose an associate as we were called, came into work and told that Elvis had died. So it’s not so much Elvis that I am thinking about today but Wal-Mart.

A few days ago I spent some time in Northwest Arkansas, where it all began for Wal-Mart. Bentonville still is the corporate headquarters of the retail behemoth.  I was struck by how much that Walton money has propelled a little-known place in the Ozark Mountains into such a vibrant business and tourist area. It’s one of the Top 25 fastest growing metro areas in the country.

Here’s three Wal-Mart inspired attractions you don’t want to miss.

Walmart Museum. In 1950, Sam Walton opened a Ben Franklin variety store called Walton 5  & 10 on the square of then-sleepy Bentonville. The facade is restored just as it looked in 1950. Inside, there’s a candy & souvenir shop, and it’s full of visitors close to 9 p.m. on a August weeknight. In the back, museum exhibits tell the story of Wal-Mart in an engaging timeline from the 1950s to today, including his 10 Rules for Building a Business.

Wal-Mart timeline
Sam Walton’s bust overlooks part of the Wal-Mart timeline
Sam Walton's pickup
Sam Walton’s 1979 Ford pickup

Driving a humble pickup truck isn’t written in those rules, but his 1979 Ford F-150 is on display there as an endearing symbol of Walton’s humility.

“I just don’t think a showy lifestyle is appropriate. Why do I drive a pickup? What am I supposed to haul my dogs around in, a Rolls-Royce?” is the Sam Walton quote on the display.

The museum complex also includes a soda fountain. A few doors down is a newly-opened War-Mart Neighborhood Store. It  fits into the quaint square look, resembling a Whole Foods more than a discounter.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. There’s no place outside a metropolitan area that has such a diverse collection of art, sculpture and architecture. And, there’s no prettier setting. Art pavilions are nestled around two-spring-fed ponds with forest trails winding through the 120-acre site, about a mile from the Bentonville square.

Original portraits of  George Washington by famous artists Gilbert Stuart and Charles Willson Peale are there. So is Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter oil painting and a Frank Lloyd Wright house that was disassembled in New Jersey and reconstructed there. There’s several Andy Warhol originals including one pop art of the Coca-Cola bottle that museum founder Alice Walton (daughter of Sam) paid $57.3 million for at Christie’s Auction House. Walton outbid the Metropolitan Museum of Art  and paid upwards of $35 million reportedly for Kindred Spirits, a famous Catskills Mountains landscape.

Crystal Bridges Museum
The design and setting of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is just as interesting as the art inside.

Opened in 2011 with $317 million from the Walton Foundation, Crystal Bridges is the first major art museum built since 1974 in America. Admission is free thanks to Wal-Mart  although special exhibits have fees and may be booked so plan ahead. A gallery exhibition of acclaimed Dale Chihuly glass artist just closed, although there are some pieces in an outside setting on exhibit through mid-November. Upcoming 2018 special exhibitions include a Georgia O’Keefe show.

Razorback Regional Greenway. This 37-mile bicycle & jogging path may have a less obvious War-Mart footprint, but it’s there. A $15 grant from the Walton Family Foundation jumpstarted development of this path that connects the growing communities of the area from south Fayetteville to Bella Vista Lake north of Bentonville and near the Missouri state line.

I spent a little over an hour riding a section near Fayetteville, and it should be on the short list for anyone looking for the top places to ride in the South. The  Fayetteville area was busy but not too congested and close to restaurants, coffee shops and micro breweries. Farther north, the path goes to quaint downtowns, through tunnels and over bridges. It connects with about 20 other trails and spurs to such places as Crystal Bridges, three Arkansas lakes and the University of Arkansas campus as well as to shopping and residential neighborhoods.

Those are three Wal-mart-connected reasons to visit Northwest Arkansas. There are many more, including the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, an entertainment venue, and Walmart AMP, a music pavilion in Rogers.

It’s not just Walton money that has made the area prosperous. Tyson Foods and  J.B. Hunt Transport are both headquartered there. In fact, J.B. Hunt founder Johnnie Bryan Hunt has an interesting entrepreneur story of his own as he was often carried a money clip of $100 bills around town, handing them out to people in need.

Sounds a little like Elvis to me.

 

Farmers Market Spotlight: Fayetteville, Arkansas

The farmer’s market in Fayetteville, Arkansas is known for its colorful flower bouquets as much as it is for fruits and vegetables.

Most of the vendors who sell heirloom tomatoes are also selling zinnias and dahlias in a rainbow of colors.

Colorful peppers and flower bouquets
What’s more colorful — the peppers or flower bouquets?
Happy Flowers
Flowers make me happy

Around since 1973, the market on Fayetteville’s historic square has grown into a hip place on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings. I was there last Saturday. Visiting the market helped me get a good picture of what Fayetteville is like.

I saw it this way: A miniature Austin without so much “weird” crossed with Oxford, Mississippi without so much Oxford shirts or Faulkner.

There were many tomato varieties and colors. Some were bicolored. Some of them were even red. Actually, Arkansas is known for pink tomatoes. It’s the state’s official fruit/vegetable. Bradley County’s Pink Tomato Festival is one of the oldest continuously running festival in the state.

Tomatoes come in many colors
Yellow, Red, Pink and Almost Black.Tomatoes come in many colors

The Fayetteville vendors were a mix of:

  1. New urban gardeners with their organic kale and food trucks

2.  Rugged farmers from places like Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove who’ve been working the terraced slopes of the Ozark Mountain foothills for decades and

3.  Many Asian family farmers introducing squash blossoms and edamame to the local food scene.

Arkansas’ growing number of Asian farmer includes Xiong’s Farm in Decatur, Arkansas. They have been selling at the Fayetteville Farmers Market for six years.

 

Arkansas is on the forefront of the growing edamame industry. It was the first state to commercially grow the edamame soybean variety. And, the town of Mulberry near Fort Smith is home to the annual Edamame Festival. Learn more here.

So Arksansas is now home to the Edamame Festival as well as the Purple Hull Pea Festival (Emerson).

It’s National Farmers Market Week, and I appreciate my Shreveport Farmers Market and the smaller markets in my community. But I also enjoy visiting other markets when I’m on the road.

Mid Week in West Monroe, Louisiana

I was traveling on Interstate 20 the other day and made a stop in West Monroe, Louisiana. I’ve always loved Antique Alley there and never seem to have enough time to cover the whole strip.

I was glad to check out Miss Kay’s Sweets & Eats. The Duck Dynasty personality recently opened a bakery and lunch spot in a renovated 1920s-era building that was once West Monroe’s first gas station. I was in a hurry so I grabbed some potato salad to go. (I’m a tough potato salad critic, so if that’s an example of the quality of other items on the menu, I’ll be back!).

I enjoyed the mural on the side of the building (see top of page) and was glad to know the West Monroe Farmers Market wasn’t far away and open six days a week, so I hopped on over. Here are a few pictures from that quick trip.

My favorite sign at the Farmers Market

Tammany Trace: Louisiana’s “Hall of Fame” Trail

Earlier this month, the Tammany Trace was named one of the Hall of Fame trails by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and I thought it was about time I blogged about this wonderful bicycling spot in Louisiana.

I was just getting back into bicycling a few years ago when I came up with the idea of bicycling 55 miles for my 55th birthday. Seasoned cyclists are used to knocking that out in one morning, but I reserved a whole weekend. I had not ridden more than 10 miles at a time in 30 years.

Thirty years!!!!!!

I found the perfect route in The Tammany Trace, a rails-to-trails project on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. The Tammany Trace is 27.35 miles from the western point in downtown Covington through Mandeville and Abita Springs to the end point at Highway 190 west of Slidell.

Double that and you’re close to 55 miles. (Eventually, another four miles will be paved to extend the trail into the center of Slidell.)

Louisiana may not be the most bicycle friendly state, but it has much to brag about with the well-maintained Tammany Trace, built on an abandoned Illinois Central Gulf Railroad corridor. The Rails-to-Trail Conservancy, a nationwide trails organization has named 30 Hall of Fame trails for their scenery, historic significance and other values. The asphalt trail is free of car traffic and dedicated to cyclists, walkers, in-line skaters and such.

My favorite stretch is the 12 miles between Mandeville and Covington. It passes bayous and shady pine forests, quaint towns with farmers markets, museums and cool eateries.

The popular Abita Springs Brew Pub and Restaurant is right on the trail. Abita beer and root beer is bottled a little over a mile away. I’m not into beer, but here’s an excellent article on craft breweries to explore on and near the trail.

I loved getting off the trail and exploring these three spots:

Downtown Covington: From art galleries to a hardware store that has been around since 1876, there  is a lot of see in downtown Covington. There’s a farmer’s market each Wednesday and Saturday.

Lake Ponchartrain Shore: We stayed at a guest house in what is known as Old Mandeville on the most recent trip, and that was great as it was only a few blocks away from the trail in one direction and the shore of Lake  Pontchartrain in the other. Lakefront Park on the shore is another great to place to cycle and people watch. And the homes on Lakefront Drive overlooking the park are gorgeous.

Dusk at Lakefront Park

Fountainbleau State Park: This is what Louisiana state parks are supposed to look like — live oaks dripping with Spanish moss and lovely cabins on the water.

In the Northshore you can get great New Orleans-style meals without the hassle of the city.  Some of the popular New Orleans spots such as Acme Oyster House, Mandina’s and Cafe du Monde have Northshore locations.  There also are some nice independent restaurants too. We liked Nuvolari’s, an old Italian restaurant just a couple of blocks from Lake Ponchartrain in Mandeville.

The Tammany Trace is in St. Tammany Parish, one of Louisiana’s so-called  “Florida parishes” because they were once part of western Florida.  With that history, the parish has a vibe that is a blend of Florida and Louisiana. It is Louisiana’s fastest growing and most affluent parish.

The Tammany Trace will always be a special place for me as it was there when I discovered (at age 55 then) that I could still ride a bike.

Tammany Trace bike path
The Tammany Trace bike path winds through the heart of Abita Springs.
Photo courtesy: LouisianaNorthshore.com

 

 

Roadside Watermelons in Bienville Parish

With the enticing displays of watermelons at the grocery store, you may not feel the need to drive to a produce stand or farmers market to find a juicy sweet one.

But sometimes you find yourself on a Louisiana country road in July, passing handmade signs advertising hay for sale, fresh farm eggs and, less frequently, melons.

I was on such a road, Highway 4 in Bienville Parish, the other day when I came across all of those signs, including one for Plunkett Farms Watermelons near the General Store of Castor.

It actually advertised watermelons and black Angus, but since I didn’t have the need (or room in our Camry) for the latter, I concentrated on the melons.

Plunkett Farms Watermelons near Castor, Louisiana

Highway 4 is already off of the beaten path, but you have to go even farther –another half mile or so on a dirt road–past the main house, rusted tractors and sycamore trees to get to Plunketts 20-acre watermelon patch.

There I found Ronald Plunkett and his helpers under a canopy shading them from the harsh afternoon sun. The melons weren’t piled up there, but I was invited to ride in a cart to the field to pick  the one I wanted.

Plunkett himself goes out early in the morning, hand picks the ripe ones and piles them up at the edge of the field. By the time he opens at 7 a.m., there’s often a line of truck peddlers waiting to buy them. Plunkett’s father began growing watermelons 68 years ago, and the Plunketts have sold to Brookshire’s and Walmart until the vendor rules got too onerous for him. He has another 25 acres of watermelons planted elsewhere.

We were on our way to Jonesboro that day, and I would have loved to have chatted more but I did get to ask Plunkett and his helpers how to pick the perfect watermelon–whether you’re in the field, at a farmers market or at Kroger.

“Look for a brown scar. I don’t know why but that’s how I have the best luck,” said one guy. I did a little research online where one report suggested brown scarring or webbing meant there was more pollination of the flowers that produce the fruit on the watermelon vine. More pollination = more sweetness, many reports say.

Other tips I’ve read about include:

(1) a creamy yellow “field spot”

(2) a brown rather than a green stem and

(3) uniformly shaped, whether round or oval.

I asked Plunkett for his best advice:

“If it’s shiny on the outside, it’s not ripe. It dulls as it ripens,” he said.

Whatever method you use, Plunkett said the least is the thumping.

He said:

“You’re not doing anything but making your finger sore.”

Castor is about an hour southeast of Shreveport and 18 miles west of Saline, a town known for its watermelons.  Along my drive the other day, I found some other signs. One advertised Saline Watermelons and gave a telephone number. Another house with a patch outside simply had “Melons” painted on a white sheet. Bienville Parish is a colorful slice of rural Louisiana. If you want to learn more, read here or here.

Plunkett Farms
Plunkett Farms