Her name is Minnie Truitt, but everyone knows here as Mrs. Beall, a bewigged, beloved grandmother who for the last 22 years has kept the upper crust of McLean in fresh corn, fruits, flowers and, as she calls them, "tomaters."
As greengrocer to the glitterati, she counts amoung her regular customers Mrs. Ethel Kennedy, the Elliot Richardsons, U.S. Chief Justice Warren Burger and the Charles Robbs -- all of who live almost within peach pit spitting distance from her tiny roadside stand.
But Mrs. Beall poo-poohs her fancy clientele. "A lady told me one day, she said, 'Mrs. Beall, do you have any idea how many big shots come here?' Well, I treat 'em all the same."
In recent years, Mrs. Beall (pronounced bell) has been forced to keep one step ahead of the bulldozer, as encroaching development left more town houses and fewer commercially zoned lots in McLean.
Her current lease expires in October. Unless her supporters persuade the Fairfax County Zoning Board to amend an ordinance to allow Mrs. Beall to set up shop on another site which is not now commercially zoned, the bulldozers may win.
"She's a McLean institution," said Leeta Dail, planning and zoning chairman of the McLean Citizens Association. "Somehow, we will find her a home for next year." If they succeed, it will be Mrs. Beall's fifth McLean Location.
The corn and tomato crusaders recently drew up a petition, gathering 1,000 signatures in less than one week. "The outpouring of people willing to support her has been tremendous," said Dail. She said the petitioners included several senators, congressmen and other well-known Washingtonians.
"I didn't think I had that many friends," Mrs. Beall said yesterday. "I guess they'd hate to see me go."
The story of Mrs. Beall is the saga of a small town, surrounded on all sides by civilization, trying to survive.
"It's a long story, but I'll make it short," she said yesterday, unloading crates of fresh corn, peaches, carrots, cherries, cantaloupes and locally grown raspberries.
She was born and raised near Walker Chapel in Arlington, nearly six decades ago. "Just say I'm in my late 50s," she deadpanned.
She and her first husband, "Mr. Beall," went to Florida. In 1958 they returned and Minnie went to work for a friend who had a small vegetable stand in front of the McLean Giant supermarket on Chain Bridge Road.
"I helped him for a few years, I sorta like it, you know I enjoyed the people, and the fresh air. Everybody was so friendly," she said, absentmindedly shelling a handful of pea pods, popping then into her mouth. ("That's how I stay so healthy. We never make a profit on the cherries either. I eat 'em all day.")
Persuaded by her customers, Mrs. Beall opened her own stand at 6700 Old Dominion Dr.
"I remember when McLean was practically all woods, and tomatoes were 50 cents a box," she said, laughing and tugging at her curly brown wig.
When that land was sold, she moved to the back of the building, next to Allen's Hardware, in a chicken-coop-style building, where she stayed for the next 10 years.
"I've had the same customers over the Years. I've watched their children grow up," she said witsfully.
Indeed, every morning from early spring to late fall, the gravel parking lot was filled with Cadillacs, Mercedeses, a limousine or two, and a few pickup trucks.
In 1969 -- after divorcing her first husband -- she married a retired military man, Steve Truitt, who came to work at the produce stand but left after two months. "He said he couldn't stand workin' for a woman," Mrs. Beall said. "But he's a little on the bashful side. He says the ladies make him nervous."
With one eye on a portable television set beaming her much-loved soap operas into the fruit and vegetable stand, and the other eye on several grandchildren who came to help out, Mrs. Beall over the years has watched the changing neighborhood, the soaring real estate market and the rising crime rate. She was robbed twice last year in three weeks.
They took everything," she said. "Even the scales."
Finally, as has been expected, the land at 6670 Old Dominian Drive was sold and Mrs. Beall was forced to move. Only this time, there was no place to go.
"There were no spots left in McLean, she said. But Leeta Dail found out about Mrs. Beall's plight and went to bat for her, asking the Amoco Oil Co if Mrs. Beall could lease a small vacant plot next to their station on the corner of Chain Bridge Road and Old Dominion Drive. The oil company agreed, but said they had plans to develop the property next year. Mrs. Beall's lease will expire in the fall.
Until then, she will do what she has always done: rise at 4:30 a.m. every day, pile into her white van and drive to local markets to buy the freshest produce available. "Those farmers know me. I won't buy anything if it's not good," she said. "They say, 'Here comes Mrs. Beall -- the pill.'"
But her customers call her something else.
"She's incredible," said Carol Moses, a McLean resident who stopped to buy a few ears of corn yesterday. "I've been coming here for years. She's an institution. Her produce is the freshest you can buy."
For the last few years, she has been threatening to retire from the produce grind, which keeps her on her feet practically 12 hours a day, six months a year. She makes a living, she said, but doesn't "strike it rich."
"But if I wasn't here," she said. "I'd probably be home contemplating my ill."