I love a tomato

Only two things money can’t  buy

and that’s true love

and home-grown tomatoes.

                      —Guy Clark

 For a long time, ours was a one-sided relationship. I brought the scraggly little things home with me and then spent countless hours kneeling at their feet, attending to their every need. For weeks upon weeks, I got nothing in return but bug bites, sunburn, and dirty nails.

 But recently things changed. The great tomato jungle is now so productive, so overgrown, that I inevitably squash a few underfoot when I go out to harvest once, twice a day. And I no longer apologize.

 While I’ve lived this particular romance before, I am again surprised at how fast it changes from sweet to overwhelming. Suddenly they insist on joining me for every meal—and in between, the big bowl on the counter demands to be snacked upon. Meanwhile, there are pans roasting in the oven and the dehydrator hums on the counter all day long. And when I can steal a few moments away from the tomatoes, there are beans and squash to blanch and freeze.

Isn’t this what I wanted? Yes, but I could use some space. Now when I enter the kitchen and see rows of tomatoes lolling on windowsills, I feel something between boredom and dread. But then I slice one open… and it’s like the first time.

Having tomatoes in your life requires some effort. Some years the plants appreciate the pains you take on their behalf. Other years the crop is meager or nonexistent. Maybe it’s something you did. Maybe it’s something you didn’t do. Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe you started with bad stock. Last year a blight collapsed plants for miles around. Still, we tomato lovers press on, laboring at the feet of these mysterious nightshades in hopes that our efforts will someday bear fruit.

Yesterday I was cutting some arugula in the herb garden when I felt a familiar pop-squish under my foot. At first I thought I had dropped a tomato on my way in from the house, but then, shaded between the wildflowers and the sorrel, I found this.

I remembered seeing the volunteer early in the summer. I let it stand—just to see what would happen—even though everyone knows productive plants do not begin their lives in this ground. The growing season is too short. Tomato plants are started indoors while the ground is white and the sky is gray, then planted around Memorial Day.

Who knows what circumstances allowed this impossibility to flourish? Gardeners quickly accept that our best efforts don’t always bear fruit. Once in awhile, we experience the flip side—reward without labor, without explanation. Call it grace.

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One Comment on “I love a tomato”

  1. Aileen Says:

    fabulous! makes me yearn for those gorgeous yellow cherry tomatoes.

    but you know, my dad grew a tomato plant from the seeds of one of his supermarket beefsteaks this summer, and as of when I left in late July, there were three giant and promising green orbs on it. in a bucket of dirt from the suburban backyard. pretty impressive…


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