Song of the Ah-Got-Um Man

When farm wagons roamed city streets.

I would nominate for sainthood each and every vendor crowded around the square of my local greenmarket. They weren’t there last year, and I didn’t know how much a part they played in my life. I missed the crowd’s chatter and exclamations, the push and pull at every table as we all vied to gather in such bounty. Sweet berries in their cardboard boxes, peaches and plums ripening together in piles, drawing a fluttering jumble of customers and bees. The season’s first corn and tomatoes. Freshwater fish with iridescent scales languishing on ice. Stacks of newly picked herbs and vegetables with dirt still clinging to their roots. Summer flowers and those salted pretzels twisted by a Mennonite family who drove all the way over from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I’ve longed for them all.

Without them, I often thought of the truck that used to slowly drive down my block, its open bed filled high with whatever was harvested that week. I remembered the seductive chant of the driver and the helper sitting in the open flatbed linked in a call and shout to advertise their offerings. It sent me scrambling for my wallet and running down the front steps, arms waving for the truck to stop. Most of the neighbors, too, ran from their houses, the plodding summer day turned spectacular at the sight of so much goodness appearing outside our houses. Suddenly our evening meal would be transformed into something we and our family could actually look forward to.

Summertime streets in city and towns once bellowed all the time with such chants. The times when children marked sidewalks with hopscotch and bottle cap boards, or set up stickball and double-Dutch teams, flirting couples, fire hydrant spray dances. When adults sat on stoops, porches, or lawn chairs to share beers, gossip, chores, and common concerns with neighbors. The days before air conditioning, never-ending cable TV, and video games locked us inside.

Occasionally, an ice cream truck will now park outside my house, its recorded jingle playing over and over and maddingly over again. But the music from the produce trucks have faded away long ago.

In remembrance, here is one of the best chants I found preserved by a writer in the New York City office of the WPA’s Federal Writers Project. He heard it on a Harlem street corner and wrote it down in the dialect of the day. Shout it out loud, maybe from your front steps or lawn. You’ll sway with its magic.

The Ah-Got-Um Man

Ah got pompanos! Ah got catfish! Ah got buffalees! Ah got um! Ah got um!

Ah got string beans! Ah got cabbage! Ah got collard greens! Ah got um! Ah got um!

Ah got honeydews! Ah got can’lopes! Ah got watermelons! Ah got um! Ah got um!

Ah got fish, Ah got fruits, Ah got vegs, yes ‘ndeed! Ah got any kind o’ vittles, Ah got anything yo’ need!

Ah’m de Ah-Got-Um Man!

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