Vegetables on the honor system

Published 9:30 pm Wednesday, January 15, 2014

There they were: fresh, juicy fruits (not the gum), and handsome healthy vegetables. The display, on Carolina Road about four miles from downtown Suffolk, was inviting, but the pretty pre-teen proprietors usually didn’t greet the customers — or, to put it another way, the Folks didn’t greet the folks.

People stopped by and picked up what they wanted. Then, they drove away, but not before putting their money into a crude, little wooden cash box, fronted by a sign showing the prices.

Susan and Ann Folk, daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Tommy Folk, relied on us folks’ honesty back in the ‘70s. It paid off, financially and as a truth test.

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“Some people may have taken a few things, but nobody ever robbed the money box. There was always something in it,” said the youngest lass, now Susan Folk LaRose. Sis is now Ann Folk Bevan.

They left their little store unattended for the most part, staying home to help with family chores.

Ann remembered that I was a regular customer and, like my fellow regular customers, I stopped by to stock up, dutifully leaving my money in the box — and probably more than necessary. She remembered me, because sometimes, the girls, dressed in red, white, and blue, were standing by to greet the buyers.

The twosome attended Suffolk Christian School, and Nansemond-Suffolk Academy. Both went to college. On Sundays, they attended Oxford Methodist Church. (The word “United” was added to the name later.)

Their fruits and veggies came from the family garden, located behind the mini-store, next to a home that housed three generations. It was the idea of their gardener-grandfather, John T. Tatum.

“He thought it would be a good idea for us to learn about selling,” Susan said recently.

She remembered me buying, “apples and butterbeans. I know you bought good tomatoes.” They are the best kind.

“I don’t know how much we took in,” Ann said. “It wasn’t a heckuva lot — maybe $5. We divided the money.”

Some of the profits went for college, some for penny candy, “from a store down the road,” she said. These days, there are no similar produce stands. “Nothing like ours” Susan said. “Now, they are run by adults.”

She did recall a bit of competition back in the day. “Dr. Jeff Foreman’s son had a vegetable stand — right there in Riverview.”

You can be famous, but not respected. Former Gov. Mills Godwin was both. I always enjoyed working with him and checking his many accomplishments at Riddick’s Folly. If you enjoyed the fruits of a community college, credit the former Nansemond County attorney.

Another accomplished Suffolkian was Della H. Raney. She was the first African-American nurse commissioned as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps during World War II. Where are the city’s historians? We should know more about her.

On a lighter, and dumber note: A guy walks into a bar, and says “Ouch!”

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at