Produce Row

This is a tricky post to write. Very touchy in my house. This is Produce Row in St. Louis, MO. It’s something of an oxymoron – an unknown landmark in St. Louis. Around for over 56 years, but very few know about or, if they do, they think it’s a regular farmer’s market.

Produce Row-1

It’s not. If people know about it at all, most would confuse it with the far more famous and historic Soulard Farmers Market, which is open to the public and traces its roots back to an open air market in the area in 1779. Produce Row, however, is made up of the wholesalers, the brokers, and the foodservice companies that serve the St. Louis and Illinois area businesses and resellers.

It’s also the place the Hubs worked nights for thirteen years, starting right out of high school after his father died. For three of those years – our early years of marriage – he worked eight third-shifts over seven days, every week. No vacation. No days off. That’s right – he worked in the morning and at night on Sundays. For three solid years. He worked his ass off for us.

When I first met him, he worked for a potato and onion house called MJM Produce Exchange – about ten or twelve of those small windows up from the front end in the picture. MJM closed and he moved on to another house, Independent Fruit & Produce. That’s where he worked those horribly long hours.

Produce Row-2

The Hubs lived on bad coffee, antacids, trash can fires in the winter, standing in coolers in the summer, and stress. No sale was good enough, because there was another sale to be made, and someone was out to gut you – sometimes, literally. He had a gun pulled on him once – mistaken identity. And he was stabbed in the hand once – he had to tell a slacker to get back to work. Business was cut throat and, frankly, often filled with characters you’d expect to find in gangster stories. A woman was even murdered there during his tenure. So, this is not my husband’s favorite place, for obvious reasons.

Everyone once in a while, because I was young and dumb, I’d get lonely and ignore The Hubs’ rule of never coming down there. I’d pack up my sleeping babies and drive down into the questionable neighborhood to visit him. It was dark as sin and seemed to be either miserably cold or miserably hot, to my recollection. No in-betweens. When the rest of the world was sleeping, there was my hubs. I’d get in a bit of trouble with him for being there, but every few months, I’d go anyway.

And, when he was home, he slept. We had two little boys, not yet out of diapers. And, we were caring as best we could for my elderly grandfather, who was deteriorating from Alzheimer’s and dementia. No place was free from the unending stress.

I think everyone has a place or a time they wouldn’t ever want to revisit and this is definitely his. And, mine, by extension. Without a doubt, it was one of the most difficult times of our marriage. These were our dark days.

Now, The Hubs has a tendency to bury the miseries of the past. And that’s good. He doesn’t dwell. He keeps his eyes straight forward.

But, since we were down there anyway, and since I always have a pressing need to rip the sheets off of old ghosts and expose them as the nothings they are, I drove by there – some 20 years after he walked off the row for the last time – and grabbed a few shots.

Produce Row-3

I don’t know what The Hubs felt. I know he didn’t want to be there. But, I felt proud. Proud that he could do it and proud that he got out of it. Because, actually, very few people leave that business. A lot of the same old names are still there. Maybe the old name-holders retired or died, but their kids have moved in. That kind of business takes over a life and My Hubs is one of the few who got out and got better. He’s the toughest guy I know.

So, I took my pictures and smiled. There were no ghosts here. Just a much better man waiting in the car…

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