You have always been there for me. Whenever summertime would roll around, you were always there. In fact, in my book, you WERE summer. Summer couldn’t happen without you.
Don’t get me wrong, I have lots of other great memories about summer. There are precious few memories, for instance, more wonderful than ball games on a radio; or the sounds of distant children laughing; or crickets singing; or third-degree sunburns strong enough to damage your liver.
Even so, nothing compares to you.
Maybe it’s all a matter of body chemistry. Maybe you and I just work well together. Maybe your pH and my chemical makeup fit together like puzzle pieces. I don’t know. Truth be told, I don’t even know what pH is.
All I know is that when I was growing up, I would slice you with a kitchen knife, place you on white Bunny bread, and slather you with mayonnaise. Then I would eat you. And if I wasn’t wearing your seeds and juices all over my T-shirt afterward, I had done it wrong.
Other times I would pluck you right off the vine and eat you like an apple. You were warm from the sun, and your vines were fuzzy.
My mother could grow you better than anyone else in the county. She had a garden that seemed like it was about the size of a rural school district. Then again, that was back during childhood, everything seemed bigger then.
Mama had so many plants that she was collecting five-gallon buckets of ripe ones every single morning. We were giving you away to neighbors, coworkers, strangers, and anyone who could fog up a mirror.
There was so much fruit coming off your vines that we set up a little vegetable stand at the end of our driveway. I sat behind a folding table all summer, watching people pay good money to buy you.
They would stuff cash into a jelly jar, filled with dollar bills, and smile like I had sold them something illegal.
Roadside customers wiped us out, and I became a very rich man. But my mother never let me keep a cent because she was a fundamentalist.
“That cash belongs to God and me for all our hard labor,” she would say. Fundamentalists use the word labor all the time.
So God got all the cash. I put it in the offering plate that Sunday, and for all I know the money probably went to fund the United Baptists Against Dancing and Cough Syrup Foundation.
Even so, you were always there. Don’t think I’ve forgotten that. This quarantine has been hard for these last few months. And it’s only getting more difficult for me.
Before COVID-19, my wife and I were travelling around the U.S. for work. It was so much fun. I was writing a lot, staying in lots of cheap hotels, and eating “continental breakfast” food that had been produced by a nuclear plastics laboratory.
Then it was all over. Suddenly we were all stuck at home. I don’t want to be Johnny Raincloud here, but being stuck at home makes me feel useless. Like I have no purpose.
I enjoyed those road trips. I liked stopping at side-of-the-road barbecue joints on a Sunday afternoon. Shoot, I miss simply going to the grocery store. I especially enjoyed the interesting people I was meeting before the quarantine.
Like the 19-year-old girl who told me her father had died a few years earlier. He’d committed suicide. Her dad had been a fiddle player. After he died, she took up the fiddle. Today she plays in a great band.
I loved interviewing the man who survived cancer not once, not twice, but five times. A man who was in his early 70s, who said that cancer was scared of him.
I loved meeting the elderly woman who once cut the hair of Hank Williams. The 11-year-old boy who made deviled eggs for local funerals and donated them free of charge. The old man who rescued feral cats.
But now I just sit on my porch, writing on this laptop, wondering what’s going to happen to our lives. Am I going to ever be useful again? Will anyone ever need me?
I know. It’s silly. There are much bigger problems out there than my small life. So I’m not going to keep complaining. What I’m getting at is: Even though the world has changed, YOU haven’t.
Throughout history, there have been troubles and turmoils and pandemics galore. Sometimes, the earth has threatened to bust apart at the seams, but YOU keep coming back every summer.
You grow big, red, sweet, and beautiful. You adorn the plates of supper tables, in all your midsummer glory. And those of us who are fortunate enough to know someone with a backyard garden, are fortunate enough.
You never let me down. Every time I want to give up, every time I think that there is nothing left in the world that is lovely, wonderful, or full of goodness, there you are. Growing right on the vine, like something from a fairytale.
Cherokee Purples, Yellow Lillians, Big Boys, Better Boys, Brandywines, Beefsteaks, Big Beefs, Green Zebras, Camparis, McDreamys, Mortgage Lifters, Texas SuperStars, Black Krims, Early Girls, Hillbillies, White Queens, Yellow Pears, or heirlooms. You make me believe in good again.
May God bless the humble tomato. Because it certainly blesses me.