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.

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.”

Well.

Dear Jamie, I wrote this for you. It’s nothing compared to a tomato, but it will have to do.

Love, Sean.

41 comments

  1. Dru - July 17, 2018 5:42 am

    Miracle Whip is an atrocity! And my mama had a Corningware percolator. Enjoy your sandwiches.

    Reply
  2. Penn Wells - July 17, 2018 5:59 am

    Homemade mayo. It’s the only way. Will be happy to send you the recipe for Mae’s Mayo (mom, rest her soul). BTW, she was kind of a health-food nut…this was the only time white bread was allowed in the house. Homegrown tomatoes with homemade mayo with lots of salt & pepper on white bread. Yes, sacred.

    Reply
    • Katherine - July 17, 2018 1:19 pm

      Please post the recipe for Mae’s Mayo here if you don’t mind. This reader is interested.

      Reply
    • Pamela McEachern - July 18, 2018 5:13 am

      Please send us your mayo recipe. Thanks!

      Reply
  3. Pamela McEachern - July 17, 2018 7:44 am

    I too have an appreciation for the love story of the perfect tomato sandwich. No portion of the tomato is thrown out but the stem and core!

    Peace and Love from Birmingham

    Reply
  4. GaryD - July 17, 2018 8:34 am

    It took me sixty years before I could eat tomatoes and even now the only way I can eat them is on a sandwich or a hamburger. I make up for it though in the amount of watermelons I put away each year!

    Reply
  5. Kay Reynolds - July 17, 2018 9:53 am

    You are so right about tomatoes! They are like gold especially when it is hot weather in Mississippi and they aren’t quite ready to harvest and you have to settle for some trucked in from Florida! If I could share tomatoes with you, I would, because I love your stories!

    Reply
  6. Anita - July 17, 2018 10:06 am

    …also, they should never be refrigerated, should be sliced thin, never stacked high, and peppered to beat the band….

    Reply
  7. Kelly - July 17, 2018 10:15 am

    How wonderful for you! Tomato sandwiches are one of the finest comfort foods! I myself have been on the search for good peaches this summer. Was even in Georgia (the sacred home of peaches) and could only find rock hard baseballs. I bought some to try and ripen on my own in a paper bag on the kitchen counter, but now luck! Ah, for a juicy, sweet peach to ruin my shirt!

    Reply
    • Janet Mary Lee - July 17, 2018 8:14 pm

      Kelly, Road Trip! Clanton, Alabama at Peach Park or Durban Farms on I-65. Heaven!! The ice cream and hand held peach pies, cobbler and waffle fries will ruin your shirt well! The BBQ is not half bad either!! And you can of course buy peaches and other goodies!

      Reply
  8. LeAnne Martin - July 17, 2018 11:35 am

    I completely agree! I grew up on tomato sandwiches fresh from my grandmother’s garden. We used Sunbeam Thin, Blue Plate, and salt and pepper. I wrote about it on my blog a couple of weeks ago if you’re interested:

    https://www.glimsen.net/blog/heirloom-beauty-2

    Thanks for your good words! I read them every day. 🙂

    Reply
  9. Connie Havard Ryland - July 17, 2018 11:45 am

    You make my heart smile. I come from a place where food is given as a token of love and kindness. Home grown or home made is always best. Love and hugs.

    Reply
  10. Karen - July 17, 2018 11:50 am

    We have a small bed in our back yard just for garden tomatoes. They are heavy with red tomatoes right now. I love tomato sandwiches, but for me, they are best with bacon and lettuce on Bunny bread with mayo. No Miracle Whip.

    Reply
  11. Michael Guilday - July 17, 2018 12:05 pm

    For me Sean, it’s “apple butter”. Home made apple butter. I can eat the whole jar in a day.

    Reply
  12. Terri Boykin - July 17, 2018 12:08 pm

    When the bag of homegrown tomatoes, corn, squash and okra appears on my front porch – in a cardboard box placed in my rocker that’s been pulled right up close to the front door – I know it’s time to bake my next door neighbor a pound cake or cobbler. And Sean, it’s Hellman’s at my house. Love you much, Terri

    Reply
  13. Barbara Pope - July 17, 2018 12:16 pm

    Good memories of meals so fresh and delicious–miss those real tomatoes.

    Reply
  14. Joy - July 17, 2018 12:24 pm

    Love tomatoes…and love you! Your writings always bring back wonderful memories. Thank you Sean

    Reply
  15. Becky Hanks - July 17, 2018 12:28 pm

    My mama and I would sit at the kitchen table and eat tomatoes like apples. We judged the tomato by how long that slurp was when we took the first bite. We didn’t waste time on sandwiches, that came later. In the days before plastic trash bags, we collected kitchen garbage in paper bags that were transferred to the metal cans out by the back door. Those rotted-bottom cans fertilized the ground where daddy planted the tomato plants. I haven’t tasted a tomato like that since around 2000 when he quit growing the best tomatoes in Alabama. That was a whole ‘nuther day.

    Reply
  16. Ms. Mary - July 17, 2018 12:41 pm

    Smiling as I read this. JUST came in from delivering a bag of tomatoes and cucumbers to my neighbor. I leave them on a bench on her porch. I know she’ll get them, and she knows where they come from.
    Your stories make me happy- Many thanks for the time, effort, and thoughts you put into them. <3

    Reply
  17. Shirley Brown - July 17, 2018 12:42 pm

    Sean, don’t ever move away from a small town in the South. I lived in Pintlala growing up and then my parents moved to the big city of Montgomery. Now it’s a farmer’s market on certain days to get those ‘maters and even then I think they ship them from Florida. Gone is the tartness and the SMELL of good ‘maters. Guess I’ll have to travel 50 miles to get a REAL ‘mater for my ‘mater and mayo sandwich. I use Hellmans mayo but it’s all what you were raised with I guess. God gave us ‘maters and once again man has found a way to mess with His creations. Now I know what I’m doing today–‘mater hunting. Have a good one and pet Thel for those of us who have a cat.

    Reply
  18. Karen Davis - July 17, 2018 12:48 pm

    You are SPOT ON about homegrown tomatoes. Loved the article as much as my tater sandwich for breakfast this morning. Thanks Sean.

    Reply
  19. Rhonda Howell - July 17, 2018 1:09 pm

    Well here I am. Now the first thing I do is get up to check my inbox. I say, I won’t like this one so much. Then Roberta Flack starts singing and my life starts being told one inked symbol at a time.
    My Granny Grunt(Ethel Grant) was my tomato sandwich expert. My other grandfather grew them along with enough to feed half the county. But Granny Grunt taught us how to make sink sandwiches. Soft bread, SPOON FULL of mayo and a one slice of a big ole mata. Salt Pepper and assume the position. We would stand on a stool and eat over the sink so she wouldn’t wear out the wringer washer on the back porch washing shirts. We went to town a lot with dirty shirts.
    And I still have her Corning percolator in the cabinet. It hasn’t worked in years but I can’t bring myself to throw it away.

    Dude, God gave you a few things to make up for some other things. You deserve a sack full of home grown tomatoes….. And you deserve Jamie. And she deserves you. Good men are harder to find than these days than a sack full of purple tomatoes.

    Reply
  20. Carol - July 17, 2018 1:10 pm

    You sure know how to fix a mater sandwich!!
    If I could just find one. It’s getting harder to find one theses days!! A really good home grown anything!!
    Love ya!

    Reply
  21. Jon Dragonfly - July 17, 2018 1:37 pm

    “your shirt should be ruined”

    Around our house, Family Rule #1 is: If you can eat it neatly, you didn’t fix it right!

    Reply
  22. Edna B. - July 17, 2018 1:39 pm

    I didn’t grow up on a farm, but my mom did. I remember the tomato sandwiches, the mayo sandwiches, and the bean sandwiches. You may not be old enough to remember the bowl of crackers with milk and sugar. Oh my, yum yum! Thanks for the tasty memories. You have a super day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  23. paula jones - July 17, 2018 1:42 pm

    I didn’t think I could love you more . . . and now this. It’s worthy to be used as liturgy.

    Reply
  24. Kathleen McAbee - July 17, 2018 8:13 pm

    I loved your tomato story, I love big mountain red tomatoes and the purple ones, only Dukes at my house.

    Reply
    • Janet Mary Lee - July 17, 2018 8:33 pm

      I loved this entire post!! I am from a German- Italian family and let me tell you, food is sacred! Italians spend part of meal time around the table planning for the next meal or remembering meals of past distinction. Germans have their beautiful gardens and wooden garden sheds and fences with lovely vegetables brought about by the power of the honey wagons. Wagons filled with golden manure only a person of the earth could love. But we ate and still eat tomato sandwiches on plain fresh white bread, salt and pepper and in my case, sacrilegious as it is, I have one with mayo and one with miracle whip. I grew up on it, what can I say. If you want to be a rebel, drip some salt pork drippings over the tomato part one day and fix and eat as usual! I find I have to have some traditional and some not! I cannot choose! But gooood! As Good and sweet as this article!! Have a great Day!!!

      Reply
  25. Shelton Armour - July 17, 2018 8:19 pm

    How can you not love and treasure a woman like that! You are indeed a lucky man.

    Reply
  26. Sandi in FL. - July 17, 2018 10:25 pm

    What sane human doesn’t adore a ripe, red summer tomato? But hey, fried green tomatoes are mighty tasty, too, for a change of pace!

    Reply
  27. Susan Kennedy - July 18, 2018 12:15 am

    I had to change my shirt today for this very reason!!

    Reply
  28. Jones - July 18, 2018 2:14 am

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️!
    👍👍
    😄

    Reply
  29. C.E. HARBIN - July 18, 2018 3:43 am

    Sacred is right. Loved the article. Your wife is wonderful.

    Reply
  30. Jack Darnell - July 18, 2018 3:47 am

    I love a ‘mater samich’ or d’mater samich. A great memory was made by my ‘red-headed’ Grandson Corey who was visiting from Utah. I made the kids tomato sandwiches. When Core was finished he came to me and asked if he could have another ‘salad sandwich’ they are delicious!
    Thanks, I enjoyed the read

    Reply
  31. Patrick Ladd - July 18, 2018 12:01 pm

    I think we are about the same age and I have never thought about a tomato sandwich for breakfast. Well, I just had one. It was fantastic

    Reply
  32. Dianne Rathje - July 18, 2018 1:24 pm

    It’s difficult to pick a favorite, but this one is tops so far! Thank you, thank you!

    Reply
  33. Lisa - July 19, 2018 3:49 am

    My supper was the sandwich you described, and my shirt bears the evidence. Lunch was corn on the cob, eaten standing at the sink, butter running to my elbows. It just doesn’t get much better! Thanks for all your words and all your goodness

    Reply
  34. kathi hill - July 23, 2018 7:09 pm

    I just finished a mater sammich. I prefer Blue Plate. It was the big mess you’ve ever seen. It was wonderful.

    Reply
  35. colmel - September 11, 2018 3:20 pm

    Thank you for this. It brings back such warm, loving memories of too many dear family no longer with us. My Aunt Jean’s momma (Mom Hyatt) used to have a world-class garden in Waynesville, NC. She would always apologize if she hadn’t bartered some meat on a day we’d visit, but we’d rush to the garden for vine-ripe, sun-warmed tomatoes. She’d fix us up pole beans, cucumbers and onions, fresh cornbread and slice up those tomatoes. I’ve eaten in restaurants all over the world. Not a one can touch those meals in Mom Hyatt’s kitchen.

    Reply
  36. Joannie - September 11, 2018 4:35 pm

    So it was a secret tomato admirer. Good deal.

    Reply
  37. Virginia (JENNY) Henson - September 12, 2018 4:34 pm

    I love tomato 🍅 sandwiches eat one every day I live in California Delta and tomatoes are a major crop the field tomatoes taste nothing like the ones that my Grandma’s garden produce even the ones from the farmers market are not as good but I’m addicted to tomatoes my favorite food !

    Reply

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