Places for the Heart
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray.“ So goes the old country song.
Correction: “Were my sunshine,” for we have lost one of our own light beams.
I refer to Tomato Sunshine, a farmer’s market and garden center south of the outlets on Route 1. No mere roadside stand, Tomato Sunshine sold seemingly everything linked to food and plants—field-fresh veggies and fruit, bakery treats, dairy goods, flowers and trees and herbs to root at home, colorful pottery, gardening gear, fountains, firewood, Christmas trees, and sundry whatnots. Most endearing to me were their budget boxes of plump, slightly over-the-hill tomatoes that, late every summer, I turned into a luscious pasta sauce.
“Please don’t take my sunshine away,” pleads the song. Well, they did. Driving into town last season, I was horrified to see Tomato Sunshine had been scraped away. The place is but a memory, for, just what we need—a shopping center crowned with a Royal Farms gas station.
Tomato Sunshine’s gravel lot crunched beneath your tires as you drove in. Its jumble of open-air sheds never won an architectural prize, but rested gently on a field evoking the long-ago rural scene. People shopping there looked happy to be doing so.
Now it’s being supplanted by more suburbia-by-the sea, awash in Sussex County’s favorite material, asphalt. The replacement will be well-engineered and designed, I’m sure, and gleam like a beacon. But it won’t glow in the heart.
In my darker moments, I picture Royal Farms multiplying and subduing the earth, ultimately merging with WaWa to form Royal WaWa.
But get a grip on reality, I tell myself. Think cheery, not dreary. Like the song’s sunshine, other sights in the area still make me happy, gray skies or not. They won’t replace Tomato Sunshine, but they make me smile in their own way. Here are a few:
One is simply a tree, but a glorious one: an enormous pecan that towers over the northwest corner of Route 16 and Union Street in Milton. Driving by it often on the way to and from D.C., I thank heaven it keeps prospering there, on the lawn of a handsome historic house. (At 200-years-plus, the tree is twice as old.) The other corners of the intersection have been nibbled away by commerce, but this slice of old Delaware soldiers on. In the winter, leafless, the tree is even more astonishing.
More mundane, perhaps, but also reassuring, are the trees gracing the parking lot that serves Cracker Barrel and EconoLodge on Route 1, shading and softening their “front yard.” This is not your usual sun-baked wasteland. A few other emporiums along the road—like Tanger Outlets and The Home Depot—acquit themselves well with generous, well-tended plantings.
On the south side of Rehoboth, Bayard Ave. crosses over scenic Silver Lake on a white-concrete bridge built in 1938, an American small-town classic that’s gone from most towns. Miraculously, the charming two-lane span has endured nearly intact over the years. So we can still delight in the slender survivor, its chunky balustrades protecting drivers, bikers, and walkers alike.
To the north, near Lake Gerar, is a sight I just noticed, called “Garden of the Navigators.” The 2013 mini-park honors the sister-city bond between Rehoboth and Greve in Chianti, Italy, whose native son Giovanni da Verrazzano sailed along the Delaware coast in 1524. It’s an artful collage of plants, pavements, pergola, and compass rose that beckons you not only to behold but to sit on a bench and enjoy.
Speaking of navigation, two faux lighthouses also cheer me up. One welcomes beachgoers from the Rehoboth Avenue traffic circle we’ve finally learned to, yes, navigate. The other adorns the corner of Routes 1 and 9 near Lewes. It plugs a nearby subdivision, alas, but you hardly notice. Both towers, modeled after the old Cape Henlopen Lighthouse, are amiable eye-catchers that add vertical perk to our too-horizontal landscape. Rakish modern forms meet traditional timber siding at the stunning new Dogfish Head Brewings and Eats, energizing the staid streetscape of upper Rehoboth Ave. Nautical and beery features—I love the big porthole windows—add just the right dabs of wit to the mix. Plus the place replaced a parking lot!
I started with trees, so I’ll close with a lawn, the huge one that buffers the Spring Lake condos from busy Route 1, popular with kids of all ages and dogs of all sizes. This greensward—lined with mature trees including a gorgeous copper beech—long ago earned my affection for its soothing beauty amid our hyperactive environment. It’s one of the last open spaces around, a prize for the eyes.
I could go on, but I’m sure you have your own special sights, places that add sunshine to your life, too. May their tribe increase!
Arnold Berke is a writer living in Washington, DC, and Rehoboth.