Summer Tomato

I saw the most amazing thing last week, amazing and delightful, and even now, I am not convinced what I saw and experienced actually occurred..think it may have been a phantasm or a hallucination, or at the very least overactive wishful thinking.

I saw a tomato.

A ruby ripe tomato, slightly smaller than a softball, the top neatly sliced off and reminding me of my grandmother’s kitchen in summer, where she prepared such tomatoes for our lunch.

But I wasn’t in my grandmother’s kitchen, wasn’t standing in the middle of a Kentucky summer, but rather, passing by the lunch table in our break room at work.
My colleague, Matt, was sitting there, enjoying his lunch—he eats well—entire meals left over from Sunday dinners—and at his elbow was the tomato. He had been delicately slicing himself pieces, one at a time, as he ate his lunch.

Stopped me in my tracks, did that tomato. Stopped my buddy, Al, too, and we gathered around the tomato, and Matt, with reverence and awe. Someone might have knelt. I’m not sure.

Matt is a wonderful fellow, and generous, and he offered us some, carved off two slices with a beatific glow, for he knew what he possessed was not of this wintry world, knew it was to be shared, knew other, more ethereal forces were at work here.

We took our offerings in trembling hands, sat down, eyes closed, and took our time—no greedy slurping and inattention, but rather a savoring, and when we were done, Al and I wore beatific smiles, too.

Because this was a summer tomato. A perfectly formed, low acidic, delicious orb of a fruit, as authentic as any of its summer brethren, worthy of a place in a roadside stand, nestled under a handwritten cardboard sign reading “home grown.”

Where, or where, did he get it?

His father gave it to him.

Now here, as in most miracle stories, the details get sketchy but I will do my best to recreate it for you. Matt’s dad lives in Union County, of this much I am sure, and he purchased the tomatoes from the Amish, or the Mennonites—of this I am less sure—somewhere in the countryside, Matt wasn’t clear.

I remember him saying something about a fund-raiser, but that doesn’t exactly square up when you think about it, and he said they were expensive. For some reason the figure of twelve tomatoes for thirty dollars sticks in my mind—quick math and that brings us to $2.50 a piece.

I envisioned the tomatoes snug in heavy cardboard boxes, some wrapped in tissue paper, some wrapped in thin gold foil, like those specialty pears we send at Christmas. I envisioned a rendezvous under the cloak of darkness, a buggy on some overgrown backroad, a kerosene lantern blinking out code, and tomato hunters inching their cars—lights off—toward the golden glow, dodging muddy potholes and low-hanging branches.

I envisioned a small child appearing from the shadows, dressed in somber clothing, a poke in one hand, the other an outstretched palm, reaching to receive the cash, horses whinnying and pawing the damp earth. I envisioned a hot house—say it isn’t so!—a hot house, where a sea of tomatoes are chugging along, under water or manure, ripening and ripening, and ripening all winter.

This is what I thought about as I ate my tomato, I don’t know about the others. Each of us sat in communal silence, thinking our own thoughts, contemplating the miracles of the universe, perhaps, and what forces of nature or fate or simple good luck brought us to this tomato.

Matt offered us more—there was still half a tomato left—but Al and I demurred, knowing, I think, that we had been given a rare and precious gift, and it doesn’t do to be greedy.

There is a poem, one I admire but can’t find, that speaks of eating fruit in its season. That there is no better joy. The poem is a cautionary tale reminding us to do things in their proper time, reminds us of the value of waiting, the wisdom of patience.

I embrace the sentiment of that and work to be patient and wise and proportional in my life, living the seasons as they present themselves to us, standing still in the moment, with joy and faith.

But oh, my, that tomato. Summer in a twinkling, and just like that, gone.

Pure rapture.

February Blues


Ah, the end of February, the drowned rat of the calendar year.  We have just about floated away, with endless rain for days upon days.  But we might just have easily had snow and sleet for the month, or days as gray as dishwater for weeks on end, all likely possibilities for this, the shortest month, and thank goodness that it is only twenty-eight days long.

It’s sad, really, how tough this month is on most of us.  We even have two holidays, Valentine’s Day and President’s Day, and you think this would ease the pain, but no. When

I was a child, we had three holidays, because Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Washington each had their own special day, although everyone worked and went to school, and mail was delivered.

There were stories of log cabins and splitting wood, and that other axe, the one that cut down the cherry tree, even though, honestly, no child ever believed deep-down that little George ever uttered the phrase, “I cannot tell a lie.”

  A very small child might confess, all sobbing and hiccuppy at getting caught, but no child big enough to wield an axe and do that kiind of damage would ever cop to it, no child you would want to be friends with, at any rate. To support my point, an example.

To this day no one has confessed to eating the last piece of pumpkin pie at my house, the Thanksgiving I was eight.  Even though the culprit left behind irrefutable evidence in the pie—a perfectly formed and precise impression of the culprit’s teeth.  The culprit must have been disturbed during the event, had heard someone coming and scampered down from the chair that allowed him or her to reach the pie in the first place, up there on top of the refrigerator. 

No one confessed, even when the father lined all the children up and placed the half-eaten piece up to four innocent mouths and one guilty one, even when the culprit was thus discovered. 

The mouth that held the teeth that matched the pie twisted in a grimace of indignation, and through protestations,  he or she wept in a slobbering fit of uncontrollable rage at the audacity and injustice of not being believed. Stomped around the house, escalating, until the rest of the family grew bored of laughing at him or her and ignored the culprit completely.

So, no, I don’t believe George Washington confessed, and, in fact, I came to doubt the whole cherry tree story in its totality.

We put up with this Washington silliness at Longfellow Elementary because there were cupcakes the last half hour of school and some sort of cherry cobbler in the school cafeteria for lunch.

February tries us, but it does some things for us, too. It brings us slowly lengthening days, seed catalogs, stacks of rakes in the racks that once held snow shovels, and gas grills and lawn mowers making their slow march from storeroom to showroom.

February gives us a reason to binge-watch TV, read big books, work complicated jigsaw puzzles, or do nothing much at all.  February helps us get ambitious in spring by making us good and bored in late winter. February teases us, or reassures us, with a few warm days here and there, spring-like afternoons with showers and puddles and gusts of wind.  February reminds us there are only a few more weeks when we might reasonably expect snow.

Then March, the lion or the lamb, bringing us crocus, daffodils, hyacinth, the first curled fingers of hostas breaking the ground.  The buzz of activity in greenhouses, and we stop by, even though the geraniums and herbs aren’t ready yet, stop by just to smell the loamy, peaty composty aroma that signifies new life about to burst from jute pods the size of Dixie cups.

February, we love to hate ya, but you do serve a purpose.  We will try to remember that, a year from now, when you roll back in.