This morning, there were two dozen homegrown tomatoes on my doorstep. I arrived home to see Winn-Dixie bags hanging from my door, and I almost lost control of my lower extremities.
I come from country people. And country people regard tomatoes as holy things.
Country people get excited about things like tomatoes. We are also the kind of people who show our love in strange ways, using things like vegetables, casserole dishes, love-notes, or saturated fat. Sometimes we use all four.
There was no note attached to these tomatoes, which struck me as odd. A secret tomato-admirer, perhaps.
I brought the bags inside. I opened them. There were tomatoes of every shape and color. Yellows, greens, reds, and even purples.
Purple tomatoes, my mother once told me, were magic tomatoes. “You’ve hit the tomato jackpot,” my mother would say, “if you come across a tomato so full of magic that it’s turning purple.”
I have a thing for tomatoes—magic or otherwise. My mother used to grow them in the summers of my youth. If I close my eyes I can still smell the greenery in her garden. Her small patches of tilled earth were surrounded by chicken wire, and hair clippings.
The clippings were mine. Back in those days, my mother used to cut my hair with dull scissors on our back porch.
In fact, this was the primary reason for my traumatic childhood. My haircuts were a cross between Bozo the Clown and an International Billiards Federation regulation cue ball.
Often, people at school would say things like, “Hey, who cuts your hair? Ronnie Milsap?”
Directly after my weedwacker haircuts, my mother would gather hair clippings into a dustpan and scatter them in her garden. The idea was that the human scent scares away vermin like raccoons, rabbits, and various civic-level politicians.
And it worked like a charm. Her tomatoes were county renowned.
Thus, my earliest memories are of overflowing baskets, loaded with bright reds, yellows, and magic purples. I’m talking tomatoes so plump they require PG-13 ratings.
So now you know how country people show love. Homegrown okra, collards, zipper peas, purple hulls, white corn, green peanuts.
And sacred tomatoes.
These days, a man can’t find garden-grown fare just anywhere. Most tomatoes, for instance, don’t come from gardens, but from nuclear facilities in Beijing. They are pink atrocities that taste like possum flop.
So when a man finds a real tomato, he must seize the moment.
That’s exactly what I did. For breakfast, I made a tomato sandwich the same way my dirt-farmer ancestors have been doing the since the invention of the rock.
My family has long standing rules for tomato sandwiches, which are simple:
—Start with Colonial, Bunny, or Sunbeam bread. In a pinch, Wonderbread will do, but try not to make it a habit. Also, leave whole grains out of this fight.
—For mayo: Duke’s or Blue Plate. Avoid Miracle Whip—which science has proven is not actual mayonnaise, but sweetened industrial pump lubricant. And here’s another tip: always use more mayonnaise than your doctor says you should.
—Lastly, your shirt should be ruined by the time you’re finished eating the sandwich. If it’s not repeat the above steps.
I’ve changed my shirt eight times today.
It might sound silly, but these tomatoes make me remember things. They make me remember the sort of folks I come from. And they make me remember how times were long before people texted at stop lights.
They make me remember a time when the only electronic devices we had were made by Philco or General Electric. A time when people still read Sunday papers. When the only coffee maker my mother used was a Corningware percolator.
A time when love wasn’t sent via email, text, or emoji, but in Winn-Dixie bags of produce.
Speaking of which. I reached into the bottom of the Winn-Dixie bag and I found a note written on a piece of legal paper. I must’ve missed it.
“Dear Sean,” the note read. “I bought these for you, I thought you’d enjoy them.
“Love, your wife.”
Dear Jamie, I wrote this for you. It’s nothing compared to a tomato, but it will have to do.