DARRELL HUCKABY: Friendship brings calm to hectic season

I had a lot on my mind last week when I put on my long overcoat and Greek fishermen’s hat and started the long cold trek up my long driveway. It would be a busy weekend. I had a football game to attend on Saturday. I would be making my first visit to Historic Grant Field since 2007. My children put me on probation for poor behavior after my last visit to the quaint little stadium across the expressway from The Varsity. It took me six years to convince them that I could behave myself, but I was still a little worried about what might transpire on Saturday evening. As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about and might even get to return to the Georgia Tech campus in 2015.

I also had a house to decorate. That’s a big deal for me because I look forward to Christmas as much as any man south of the North Pole not named Clark Griswold. I was determined to go all out this year and had even secured a bucket truck so I could put glowing lights across the eaves of my house. I did, too. Took me all day Friday. It was not until I had finished that I noticed the lights were the wrong color to match the rest of our décor. Told you I had a lot of Clark Griswold in me. Now I have to redo the whole thing, as soon as the rain stops and the sun comes out.

Next weekend I am celebrating the season by taking 89 of my soon to be closest friends to New York City for a magical holiday weekend, and that had caused me a lot of trepidation — particularly about the weather — something else over which I have no control. Like I said, I had a lot on my mind.

And then I picked up the Citizen newspaper and there in the front page was a magnificent photograph of one of my very best friends in the whole world. Ben Evans was grinning at me from the front porch of his produce market — scraggly beard, flannel shirt and all. He was surrounded by Frazier fir Christmas trees — one of which would adorn my living room within 24 hours.

My worries went away, at least temporarily, and as I made my way back down the hill toward the house I pondered in my heart my relationship with Mr. Ben.

It is hard to say when Ben and I went from a produce man—customer relationship to one approaching kin-hood. It just sort of happened. I started buying produce from Ben Evans shortly after I moved to Conyers. I lived on Christian Circle and he operated at the corner of Honey Creek Road and Ga. 20. I would stop by, from time to time, and pick up tomatoes and corn and once our first child was born I could not pass his produce stand without stopping because my daughter, Jamie Leigh, knew that if she smiled her cutest smile at the “tomato man” he couldn’t resist giving her a fresh sweet plum. I wish I had a nickel for every plum Ben Evans has given away to cute children.

I began to spend more and more time hanging out at Ben’s place — especially after he moved down to his current Magnet location. I became close with his whole family — wife Dolores, children, grandchildren — they were like my own family — and still are.

In 2001 we started a tradition that has continued until today. Every year, for a dozen years on the first Saturday in December I have had a book signing at Evans Market. It makes my Christmas. It is usually a little cold, so we burn a fire in a 55 gallon drum. The smell of freshly cut trees fills the air and his shelves are loaded down with oranges, apples, grapefruits, tangerines, nuts, candy and every type of produce you can think of, not to mention candy and honey and apple cider — with boiled peanuts always on hand.

I dress up in my overalls and put on my Santa Claus hat and take my place in my favorite rocking chair and spend the happiest day of my Christmas season, greeting old friends and making new ones and watching wide-eyed children shop for just the right tree. The Christmas spirit permeates the air and once in a while I even sell a book.

I’m glad the paper carried Ben’s picture last week because it reminded me that no matter how hectic my weekend and week might be — this coming Saturday will be a good day — and I don’t have to worry about who will win the day’s football game or what color the lights on my house happen to be.