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‘The produce man’ leaves legacy

Larecia Wingard Scruggs is missing her granddaddy this week. A lot of people are. Carl Wingard, “the produce man,” was an institution in south Butler County. Larecia said she honestly thought maybe he’d live forever because she couldn’t imagine life without him.

It hurts to lose a man like  Carl. The memories, however, are all the sweeter for it.

“All of his grandchildren grew up working on the farm. Some of my cousins got to help at the barn when the stand was still there at the house, but I always worked with a couple of my boy cousins in the field, and wouldn’t trade a minute of it,” Larecia told me.

“He trusted us to do the job we were asked to do. Brad was a couple of years older than me, and it was usually he and I that were sent off to do other stuff after the tomatoes had been picked. That was always the very first thing to be done every morning. He would pick us all up just about daybreak.”

And dilly-dallying was not recommended.

“Before he ever got to the house, he would start blowing the horn. You better be out by the road, ready to jump on the back of his pickup when he got there because he didn’t always come to a complete stop,” she laughed, adding, “It was the same thing in the afternoon and evenings when he brought us back home.”

And while she was prepared for those hasty departures, other times her Granddaddy Wingard caught Larecia off-guard.

“Once, when I was 13 or 14, we were at the barn. He told me to get in the truck, this little red Nissan he’d had just a short time, and go over to the field and give a message to somebody.”

Larecia’s jaw dropped.

“I said ‘Granddaddy, I can’t drive.’ To which he replied, “I said, get in the truck and go tell so-and-so something.’ I said, “But Granddaddy, I can’t …..” and I never got the rest of it out of my mouth before he told me again to get in the truck and go. I just said, ‘Yes, sir,’ and off I went. I can still hear him just as plain as day,” Larecia laughed.

She says she learned about discipline, deadlines and the value of teamwork from her granddaddy.

“After the tomatoes were picked, we would take the truck over to the field and we would all pick them and make piles here and there. Then we rotated. One drove the truck, one stayed on the ground, and one was on back of the truck. Whoever was on the ground would throw the cantaloupes or hand off the watermelons to whoever was on back,” she explained.

“Granddaddy would send us to pull corn. He would let us know how many bushels he needed that day and that’s what we got.”

The family members knew Carl just might ride over to check on their progress in the fields.

“If he didn’t think we were working fast enough — we learned to. Discipline and deadlines. I didn’t like it much back then; now, I appreciate it,” Larecia said.

And then there was the Great Goat Incident.

“He used to have goats. There was one named Billy who had been somebody’s pet. And Billy always wanted to play,” Larecia said.

“Granddaddy and I were loading up tomato stakes from under one of the pasture barns, and Billy came up and kept hitting me in the hip with his big old horns wanting to play. I kept pushing him away because I had work to do.

“Next thing I knew, he came up behind me and scooped me up with those horns. Granddaddy had to get one of the tomato stakes after Billy to get him to leave me alone.” Larecia’s knees and legs were black and blue for days after her surprise encounter. “But that was OK. Granddaddy saved the day,” she said with a smile.

While he was serious about the business of farming, Carl had his lighter side, too.

“Granddaddy was always laughing and picking at you about something. Once I remember Grandmama raising that soft voice of her, which was a rarity, and insisting she was going to wash his clothes,” Larecia said.

“And he told her there was no need because he was just going to get them dirty again, anyway. She told me he’d worn that particular pair of blue jeans and denim shirt to the field at least three days in a row.”

There are so many memories of her grandparents and the farm. The sweet smell of the tobacco, helping stack it in the barns and pack it down to get it ready to ship. Learning how to drive his little orange Kubota tractor. “I  never did tell him about the time I almost flipped it,” checking on the newborn hogs and raising calves off of the bottle. The Sunday afternoons after church spent with her cousins at the farm, making “whirlybirds” from corn cobs and chicken feathers, coaxing doodlebugs out of their holes beneath the shed, and swinging on the old wooden swing that once hung from the huge pecan tree in front of her grandparents’ modest ranch house.

“It hurts so bad that he’s gone, but I know where his faith was, and I know he’s reunited with our Grandmama. He was an amazing man,” Larecia said.

“They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”