When 25-pound bags of Vidalia onions start stacking up at Harvey's Barber Shop in Beaufort, all is right with the world.
It's a sign of eternal spring. It peels back our troubles to a layer of comfort provided by an old cooking onion that mysteriously grows fat and juicy, sweet and tart as Duke's mayonnaise, after being kissed by the scrubby soil of south Georgia.
It's a God thing.
Better yet, it's a Beaufort thing.
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It means Beaufort is still Beaufort.
And that's a God thing, too, when you consider that Harvey's, a Bay Street barnacle since 1936, is still run by the Harvey boys, Ray and Johnny, who took it over from their daddy, Furman, and even as they dip into their 70s are still able to come to work in shorts and tennis shoes.
They still lather hot shaving cream on the back of your neck and then mop it off with a steaming hot hand cloth that works a lot like a psychiatrist but at a much better price.
The old sofa in the waiting room is so plump there very well could be a person or two lost in there.
The pool hall they used to have in the back, called the Back Door Club, is long gone.
But a lot is the same— stacks of magazines and The Beaufort Gazette, a newspaper on religion called the Carolina Compass ("A signal to the seeker; a friend to the faithful"), the get-rich-quick state lottery offerings ("it pays the light bill"), the Lucky Tiger grooming aids ("Lucky Tiger has been helping men get lucky since 1935. Isn’t it time you got lucky?"), the painting by Mary Thibault of a man named Sam sitting on the backless bench out front on the sidewalk at 7 a.m., two full bookshelves that make up the Harvey Book Swap ("bring one, take one"), and a jar to put dollar bills in for the Gay Fish Dock Raising.
And then you have the real star this week — the Vidalia onions.
Johnny Harvey has been running that little enterprise since the new millennium. He sells the Vidalias, 25 pounds for $23, for the Rotary Club of Beaufort. For 27 years, it's been one of the club's largest fundraisers, like the Port Royal Crab Race at last weekend's Soft Shell Crab Festival.
Jay Taylor of Kinghorn Insurance of Beaufort heads it up. They typically sell 4.5 tons of Vidalias each year. To place an order for next week's shipment, contact him at email@example.com. It's $23 for 25 pounds or $12 for 10 pounds.
"A lot of people will be having onion-ring parties on the dock this Sunday afternoon," he said.
David Youmans, who was written up in the Gazette when Ray Harvey cut his grandson's hair to make it three generations in a row of first haircuts in a Harvey barber chair, drives a big truck donated by Dan Lynch at AAA Storage City to pick up the onions.
On Wednesday evening at the barber shop, Youmans offered me not only a bourbon and water but a chance to ride with him to Metter, Ga., next Tuesday to pick up the second load of Vidalias. He brought in 4,600 pounds this week.
"They're like a Beaufort tomato," he said. "There's no better tomato in the world than a tomato from the sea islands."
Johnny Harvey has 96 bags of Vidalias already sold. You can't just walk in off the street and buy them retail. You have to order them in advance.
Johnny said it all started when he brought a few bags to the shop for people to pick up. Others saw them and wanted to buy them. So the advance-order business was launched. Buyers have a week to come pick them up, or he sells them to someone else. They don't want the place smelling like a barn yard.
Johnny walks across the checkerboard flooring to show me his computer. He keeps the names and numbers of his onion customers on a spreadsheet. He called me last week to ask if I was in again this year.
I told him he'd have to hold. I wasn't expecting a call from heaven.