I’m a child of the 1950’s. I grew up in the small, eastern Washington town of Yakima, a town which is blessed with abundant sunshine, irrigation water and rich volcanic soil. The Yakima area boasts the perfect conditions needed for growing tons and tons of excellent fruit and vegetables.
Sometimes, I seem to have total recall of a person I met, or of an event that took place when I was just a boy; other times, I have only sketchy details to relate. For this particular story, I’m afraid I don’t have many details to share. But this story needs to be told. You see, there was once was a kind man who moved to Yakima, to make a home there, who made a big impression on the many children he met — myself included.
I remember how in the mid-to-late 1950’s, a middle-aged Chinese gentleman drove through our southwest Yakima neighborhood, selling the freshest produce, much of which he grew on his truck farm. But he didn’t drive a truck! He actually used a horse and cart to carry out his deliveries. Most of us kids called this unusual man “Charlie Peanut”, although I’ve learned that some knew him as “Hayway”. And yes, sometimes he was referred to as “the Chinaman”.
Charlie Peanut would slowly travel from block to block, periodically stopping his cart, in order to sell all possible varieties of his wonderful produce to the moms of the neighborhood. The back of his cart was loaded with lettuce, spinach, cabbage, greens, carrots, beets, onions, potatoes, broccoli, melons, squash, and more. We kids could hear him coming: we’d hear the “clop, clop, clop” of his horse’s huge hooves. Charlie would find a good stopping place and bring his wagon to a halt. Kids and moms would come running! We kids would shout “Hi, Charlie!” He always said “Hi” back. Then, he turned his attention to our mothers, who were lined up, waiting to conduct business with Charlie.
While Charlie and our moms were engaged in their activities, we kids would visit with Charlie’s very gentle horse. We would, with little or no thought, pull up some grass from a neighbor’s lawn, flatten-out our small hands very carefully, and offer it to the grateful animal. Sometimes, we would get a carrot from Charlie, and we’d feed that to the horse. This would go on while perhaps a dozen other little hands were softly caressing the horse’s beautiful coat. — It’s funny: I don’t remember asking Charlie the name of his horse.
Having little first-hand information, I asked my Facebook friends if they had any Charlie Peanut stories to share. One correspondent wrote to say that Charlie would stop his wagon and lift two or three kids up onto the back, and he would give each one a carrot, top and all, to munch on as he gave them a ride around three or four blocks. Then he would drop them back at home. They would jump off the back of the wagon and feed the carrot tops to the horse, which my friend described as an old bay horse with blinders.
Day in and day out, Charlie was patient and friendly with all. — Friendly in his own quiet way. But you know, a smile can say a lot, and Charlie always had a kind smile on his face.
Now, here is the thing: we kids were not gathered around Charlie, his horse and our moms just to say “Hi” and to pet the horse, to perhaps get a ride, or to watch the transactions take place. We were waiting for our treat! Because, after conducting business with our moms (honestly, I never saw a dad buying produce from Charlie), and right before he’d signal his big old horse to get going, he would throw a handful of peanuts to us kids. We’d excitedly scoop them up from the ground, while yelling, “Thank you Charlie Peanut”! He would laugh, wave, and drive off. – Well, now you know how Charlie got his nickname. (I learned from one woman that her little six-year-old brother, Kelly, got too excited one day, while scooping up peanuts, and Charlie ran over him! Thankfully, the little boy was not badly hurt.)
One person noted that Charlie was subjected to discrimination. — In many parts of America in those days, including Yakima and the Yakima Valley, Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos and other persons of Asian descent were often discriminated against. – Back then, I was just a young lad; my parents had told me that we are all God’s children, to be treated equally. I hadn’t yet realized that discrimination existed, and I was not aware that Charlie was a target of racial bias. But he soldiered on, in his quiet way, displaying a smile, day in and day out. I never saw Charlie demonstrate any behavior other than kindness and gentleness.
My family eventually moved from the little southwest Yakima neighborhood, so I never again saw Charlie Peanut, once I reached the age of ten. But I remember reading in the Yakima Daily Republic newspaper, circa late-60’s/early 70’s, that Charlie’s horse got loose on one occasion, and just wreaked havoc on the produce garden! I hope Charlie recovered from that disaster.
In the spring of 1974, I moved from Yakima to the much larger city of Seattle, Washington; therefore, I don’t know how Charlie’s story ended. But I felt a need to share what little I do know about the unique, hard-working man who supplied our tables with such excellent fare, while simultaneously making many friends and admirers.
Charlie seemed to have found the secret to happiness. While possessing a shy personality, and a less-than strong command of the English language, Charlie managed to spread the love, in his own way. Having moved to Yakima from so far away, he found, or created, his own niche. He personified the concept of a life well-lived. I want to be like Charlie.
In researching this story, I put out the word on two Yakima-centric Facebook pages, requesting information. We who knew Charlie are now in our 50’s, at the very least. Just about everyone who responded said the same thing: He was a quiet, nice man. People remembered seeing him as far back as the 1940’s, and as recently as the late 1960’s. But no one knew Charlie’s real name. No one could even remember Charlie’s horse’s name. — I did hear that Charlie had a family of his own, and that he lived near Willow Street. I wish I could find his family, so I could tell them just how many people contacted me to say how they admired Charlie Peanut. He is remembered fondly, by many.
Thanks to Jack Beeson, Deborah Roberts Burt, Sally Gavin and Judith Rae Lebins, for sharing information!