The Best Peaches I’ve Ever Had

I was driving down the road near Sunset, South Carolina when I passed by a fruit stand on the side of the road. My aunt had told me that South Carolina peaches were actually better than famous Georgia peaches, so I thought I’d give them a shot.


As I pulled up to the ramshackle shop, there was an older gentleman selling various fruits and vegetables with his scruffy looking dog and I thought, “These are about to be some incredible peaches.”


What I got was a whole lot more than tasty peaches.




The man’s name was Charlie Watkins, and his dog was Elvis Presley Watkins ( I know, awesome name, right?). Charlie was about 80 years old, and shared some of the most incredible stories I’d ever heard.


After exchanging a few formalities while buying the fruit, Mr. Watkins broke into a story about how forgetting a coat saved his life. He was a young recruit in the military stationed in Vietnam when he and a group friends were sent out on a mission. As they walked towards the truck to drive off base, Charlie realized he left his coat back in the barracks. He sent his mates ahead while he retrieved it.


A few minutes later as he neared the truck, coat in hand, his body was rocked backwards by an intense burst of light and heat. After collecting himself to assure his faculties were in order, Charlie seemed relatively unscathed. The same could not be said for the charred truck, nor sadly, for his fellow army men.


The base was not under attack from enemy bombers, but rather from guerilla efforts. As it turns out, Vietnamese soldiers had dug tunnels underneath the base and surfaced under the truck and had placed grenades in the exhaust pipe and blown the vehicle to smithereens. Charlie would have been in that truck if not for a slip of the mind, a point which he made clear to me with tears in his eyes.


This story came out in the first five minutes of meeting me; I could tell that Mr. Watkins was lonely and simply needed someone to talk to. So, I set the peaches down, determined to lend this man an ear.


Later on in the war, Charlie was in the middle of the battlefield and took a bullet to the back. A wound from which he never fully recovered. During that same battle which his squad was losing, his commander ordered them to retreat. While retreating, that same commander was shot multiple times, and bleeding out on the ground. It appeared that he was not going to make it, and ordered Charlie to keep going. But Charlie had already been unable to rescue his friends in the guerilla attack, and he was not going to let that happen again. So, disobeying his sergeant’s orders, with a bullet in his back, Charlie dragged his commanding officer all the way back to the rally point. They were picked up by friendly forces, and transported back to the base for treatment.


The bullet was removed from Charlie’s back, and his sergeant pulled through to live another day. This heroic act in the face of truly mortal danger left me speechless as Charlie recounted his story. The biggest worry on my mind that day was if some of the peaches I bought were ripe enough to eat. I couldn’t hold a candle to this man’s accomplishments, which didn’t stop there.


To throw shade onto that heroic act, Charlie had still disobeyed direct orders. For that, and for an injured spine from the bullet, the army decided he was unfit for duty and honorably discharged Charlie Watkins. Shortly after his service, Charlie attended college, and paid his way through by fixing up and selling used cars. Afterwards, he somehow secured a job as a personal bodyguard for a judge in Georgia.


With the skills he learned in the military, Charlie served as a bodyguard for many years, and made decent money under the table. As best as I understood him, this position was under the radar and somewhat illegal, but nonetheless important.


I heard story after story from Charlie, all the while asking questions, listening intently, and smiling. We laughed a lot, smiled even more, and cried a little bit too. The most tragic story Charlie shared with me had taken place not ten years ago.


He and his wife had been married for 45 years. He loved her dearly, which I could tell from the tone of his voice. The two of them were driving in the car one afternoon, Charlie at the wheel, and her riding shotgun. As he pulled onto the road, an erratic driver slammed into the passenger side, sending the car careening; afterwards the other car sped away. Charlie, had stayed conscious through the whole incident. He was bruised and bloodied with broken bones, but otherwise alive.


Now, here is where he choked up, blinking away eyes full of tears, and I nearly lost it right there. Charlie told me that as he looked in the passenger seat at his lifelong partner, she was already gone. Like he lost his friends in a violent explosion in Vietnam, so too did he lose his wife in a violent car accident in South Carolina. Both times he survived, but I could see the guilt of survival on his face. I did my best to comfort him, but I knew whatever I said he had heard before. So I remained mostly silent, as I had much of the time, and lent him my heart.


Although he recounted a life full of difficulty, I could tell Charlie was proud of all he had achieved. And I noticed a change in demeanor from when I had first met him. His eyes were brighter, he sat up straighter, and he smiled more. All he needed was someone to hear him talk, the lonely old fruit vendor. I had given him something so simple. Time. And in return he gave me an unforgettable experience worth so much more than $2.00 of peaches.


I left the Charlie two hours after stopping at the fruit stand, peaches in hand, with a tear in my own eye. The stories Charlie recounted were truly remarkable, and I hoped I had given him what he needed that day. It never ceases to amaze me how something as simple as listening can bring others so much joy.


And yes. South Carolina peaches are indeed better than Georgia peaches.

4 Responses to “The Best Peaches I’ve Ever Had”

Author's gravatar

Great story, Tom! I hope you have lots more experiences like this. Safe travels!

    Author's gravatar

    Thank you very much Jeanne! I already have a few good ones, so keep an eye out.

Author's gravatar

I believe one of your adverts triggered my web browser to resize, you may well want to put that on your blacklist.

    Author's gravatar

    I don’t have any adverts on my pages. Do you know what it could have been otherwise?

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