The Fruit of the Vine

I am going to hell. When I tell you what I’ve done you will nod and say, “Yep, he’s definitely getting a top-of-the-line condo on the Lake of Fire.”

Truthfully, I’m not sure how it happened. All I know is that a devilish impulse can strike out of nowhere, and it can ruin a man’s soul forever.

I learned this from one of my grade school teachers, Mrs. Michaels. She was a committed Pentecostal woman with a beehive hairdo who smelled like bath powder.

She told us that it was easy to end up in hell. All you had to do was listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd or play Dungeons and Dragons board games. And before you knew it, (snap!) it was everlasting pitchforks.

My downward spiral into depravity happened this afternoon when I was driving past my neighbor’s house. I saw something in his vegetable garden. Something gleaming in the midsummer sun. Bright red fruit, hanging from sacred vines.

Tomatoes.

I pulled into my neighbor’s vacant driveway. I glanced both directions. The residential street was empty. There were no witnesses.

The first thoughts of sin entered my mind. And an eerie calm settled onto the world, like the stillness before a tornado. I went in for a closer look.

Throughout my life I have met a lot of people who hate tomatoes. I’ve never understood this. My friend Ryan, for instance, wouldn’t touch tomatoes. He was the kind of kid who would only eat spaghetti topped with melted American cheese, which just shows you what kind of guy we were dealing with.

For years we couldn’t convince Ryan to so much as sniff a tomato. Until one day, I still don’t know how we did it, we finally got him to eat some canned tomatoes.

Moments after eating them, we discovered Ryan was deathly allergic to canned tomatoes. His lips began to swell. An ambulance was called. Sirens blaring. The whole neighborhood came out.

Ryan’s mother never let him play board games with us again.

I unlatched my neighbor’s garden gate. I crept through rows of squash, zucchini, and heirlooms. And I took in a deep breath.

I love everything about tomatoes. Even the smell of the plant is its own precious joy. I like the aroma of the stalks, the leaves, and the yellow flowers. There is a slightly spicy fragrance to the tomato plant, and it really rings my bell.

The tomato is an interesting fruit, historically speaking. Ancient tomatoes were mostly poisonous before the Aztecs in Peru and Southern Mexico domesticated them. And they didn’t just use them as food, but as hallucinogenics.

Tomatoes are never mentioned in the works of Shakespeare, or the Bible. But most elderly Pentecostal grade school teachers agree that stealing them is wrong.

I tried knocking on my neighbor’s front door to ask if I could buy a couple tomatoes. But nobody answered. So I went around back and knocked again. Nobody was home.

That’s when the darkness overtook me. I plucked two beefsteak tomatoes from the vine. I casually carried them away in broad daylight. I’m so ashamed.

I tried not to think of what Mrs. Michaels would say. Because I already know. I had broken the seventh commandment and this was the end. Mrs. Michaels was very black-and-white about these things.

She was one of many childhood teachers in my youth who instilled Old Testament fear into me. You have to understand, I was raised Southern Baptist. Fear was a recurring theme with us. Our Sunday school classes were about as fun as being stabbed in the thigh with a BIC pen.

Our Sunday school teachers carried pool cues for classroom pointers. The same favored weapons of barroom brawlers all over the nation.

These were hard women who did not mess around. Take Mrs. Evans. She once told our Sunday school class that the sin of stealing a paperclip was no different in the eyes of God than hotwiring a Camaro.

And I don’t even want to tell you what happened when Mrs. Evans found out you owned “Charlie’s Angels” trading cards.

So I decided to eat my neighbor’s tomato. Because even though my eternity hung in the balance, there are some things a man can’t help.

I opted for the good old-fashioned tomato sandwich.

The tomato sandwich. One of the most cherished rites of humanhood. I can think of nothing more nostalgic than the taste of Duke’s mayonnaise, white Bunny bread, and the tender homegrown fruit of heaven.

Some people add bacon. I don’t. Either way, a tomato sandwich tastes exactly like Elvis singing the national anthem.

I used two pieces of bread. I slathered enough mayo on each slice to wax the steps of Buckingham Palace. I salted the tomatoes. And even though I knew it wouldn’t help my eternal soul, I said grace anyway.

I took a bite. And an entire lifetime came back to me. Everything. All at once. The good, the bad, the ridiculous. It was like being hit by a seismic sea wave.

I remembered the hot summers of a long-gone childhood. And the warm evenings spent among my people. When you eat a tomato sandwich, if you don’t feel something profound you’re doing it wrong.

So I won’t lie to you. It was such a wonderful experience that I could have either cried, tap-danced, or started singing for joy.

Sadly, I won’t be doing any of that where I’m going.

45 comments

  1. Teresa S - July 14, 2020 6:45 am

    Hilarious! We Southern Baptists born and bread sure do carry around a lot of dead weight guilt, don’t we? We never learned a lot about grace until we were married!

    Sadly, I am not a tomato lover, but love tomatoes in everything else: soup, spaghetti sauce, etc., but I just can’t eat them by themselves or in a salad. Crazy, right? But I make sure my dear husband has fresh tomatoes for all of his sandwiches, etc. My soon to be 94 year old mother-in-law Just knew I couldn’t possibly marry her son if I I didn’t adore tomatoes, but we will soon celebrate our 41st year of marriage in a couple weeks.

    Reply
  2. Teresa S - July 14, 2020 6:46 am

    Oops! That born and bred!

    Reply
  3. Michele Sandstead - July 14, 2020 7:30 am

    Mater sanmiches! The best! My husband has a community garden here in Destin and we have wonderful maters!! The funny thing is he had never eaten a tomato sandwich until I made him one a few months ago. With Dukes mayo and whole grain bread! He is totally addicted now. I love your life stories, Sean!!!

    Reply
  4. Toni - July 14, 2020 8:56 am

    You are covered by God’s amazing grace. We all are.

    Reply
  5. Mart Martin - July 14, 2020 9:17 am

    Sean, you need to know the music of my friend Kate Campbell. And you need to hear a fan favorite, “Jesus and Tomatoes Coming Soon.” Here’s link; trust me, it’s worth it. And let me know if you want to meet her and I can make the introduction. She sings about the South, and a lot about Alabama.

    Reply
  6. Deborah Blount - July 14, 2020 9:20 am

    Since I am concerned about your soul, I will tell you this. Go back to your neighbor and confess your sin. Pay for the tomatoes you took and beg for their forgiveness. Then ask if you can buy tomatoes from them for the rest of the season. Find out where they get their tomato plants and what they use to fertilize them. Next year, grow your own tomatoes and share with your neighbors. Your soul should be redeemed.

    As a side note, I must tell you, this was so funny I am having a difficult time typing my comment. I’m laughing so hard, I keep missing the keys. My grandsons have shades of you in them. LOL

    Reply
  7. Cathi Russell - July 14, 2020 9:48 am

    Your sins are forgiven, thanks to the Blood of the Lamb. But just in cases, please confess your sin to your neighbor, pay for the maters & take him a Dean’s 7-layer caramel cake.

    Reply
  8. Ann - July 14, 2020 10:42 am

    It’s gonna be alright!!…..I can’t walk through a garden store without rubbing a tomato leaf….childhood memories flood back…I think there is a heavenly connection to tomatoes….even though there is nothing like a northern tomato in August!….they are magical!

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  9. Michelle Emerling - July 14, 2020 11:13 am

    I could taste your tomato through the entire column! I am patiently waiting for my tomatoes to ripen and then I will be in heaven!

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  10. Penn Wells - July 14, 2020 11:33 am

    Duke’s is good, but homemade is even better. My mom wasn’t a great cook, but she made unbelievable mayonnaise. The only time white bread was allowed in our house was for a mater sandwich. What I wouldn’t give for a Georgia tomato from the 1960s before they GMOed the seed to make a tomato “prettier.” Ugh.

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  11. Jeri Bishop - July 14, 2020 11:52 am

    Sean, you won’t make ELDERLY if you keep up this antic of stealing tomatoes and I’m Methodist not Pentecostal!

    Reply
  12. Robert M Brenner - July 14, 2020 12:07 pm

    A 🍅 sandwich will do that to a man! But, who cares because it doesn’t get any better than a fresh 🍅 sandwich, adding bacon would be sacrilegious! And everyone knows a stolen tomato sandwich tastes better!! 😊❤️🍅

    Reply
  13. Jan - July 14, 2020 12:11 pm

    A good tomato is worth it!!!

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  14. Ted Norton - July 14, 2020 12:25 pm

    Yep. That’s it for you. The unpardonable sin! 😂

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  15. Margaret - July 14, 2020 12:30 pm

    I am sure your neighbor (and God) will forgive you, Sean, if you ask, in faith believing. Nothing says summer like a home growed ‘mater sammich! Absolutely nothing!!

    Reply
  16. Lisa Sanford - July 14, 2020 12:31 pm

    Sweet Sean, just go by your neighbor’s house and give him $4 and confess your sin to him, and all will be right again. And of course, confess and repent to Jesus, who loves you, tomato thief, THEN ALL WILL TRULY BE MADE NEW AND RIGHT! Love your column!!!

    Reply
  17. Mart - July 14, 2020 12:32 pm

    The intro of the song starts at 3:45.

    Reply
  18. Jo Ann - July 14, 2020 12:51 pm

    Last week, we had our first-of-the-season homegrown tomato sandwich. Heaven!!!

    Reply
  19. Phoebe Brown - July 14, 2020 1:02 pm

    It’s bound to happen-someone is going to go into Publix, buy a ‘looks big enough’ tomato, fix it your way, and they’ll say-“I don’t get it”. Just like my old coworker Ray Rhodes-from Chicago did-when the gang talked about our peanuts in Coca Cola. He bought a fountain cola and put in peanuts. – “I don’t get it”. Poor Ray.

    Reply
  20. Dianne - July 14, 2020 1:19 pm

    There is nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, better than a good ripe Heirloom tomato sandwich on white bread smothered with Duke’s mayo. In fact, I had tomato sandwiches for breakfast Sunday and yesterday!! I think your neighbor will forgive you for enjoying the fruits of his garden.

    Reply
  21. Teresa Tindle - July 14, 2020 1:30 pm

    Oh goodness Sean! This is wonderful. There ain’t nothing any better during the summer than a good ole mater sandwich. With so much mayonnaise and salt it runs down your arms before you even pick it up. I too am going to join you in the awful pit of fire. A few years ago, I took a red ripe wonder from my neighbors garden. Oh my Lord it was good! I never told him.

    Reply
  22. jnearen2013 - July 14, 2020 1:56 pm

    Hell is too good for you, son! 🙂

    Reply
  23. Tammy S. - July 14, 2020 2:24 pm

    “…a tomato sandwich tastes exactly like Elvis singing the national anthem.” Haha Being from the Memphis area before moving to NC, I loved this line! 😊 When my husband and I moved to NC, less than a year of being married, I had to learn some things. I had always lived in Tennessee. He had lived his whole life in NC before moving to TN to go to seminary. He got his MDiv, snatched up the young pastors daughter (me) at the church where he served as Assoc. pastor/youth director, married me, then moved us to NC when a church called needing a pastor. We moved to NC, got settled into our first home, and I went grocery shopping to fill our fridge. I brought home tomatoes and what I thought was a “Hell” of a good Mayo (Mann was I wrong), along with a lot of other groceries. Big Mistake! He took me back to Teeter and straight to the condiment isle….”This, we only eat Duke’s here in Gastonia, in all of NC!! This is it.” 😳 Oookay. 30 and a half years later of using only Duke’s Mayo and I get his “come to Jesus, straight-talk.” He was just looking out for me. Besides, the other brand has the word “hell” in it for goodness sake!! What was I thinking!! I think your use of Duke’s Mayo might just cancel out and redeem you for borrowing those tomatoes 🍅!! If not, at least you’ll go the other Mayo named place with a smile on your face!!

    Reply
  24. J. O. Zachow - July 14, 2020 2:33 pm

    Teresa, I’m like you–I’ll eat anything you can make out of tomatoes–gazpacho, even tomato aspic, a staple at Episcopalian covered dish Lenten suppers. But no sliced tomato for me, or stuffed tomato or tomato in a salad. No, we’re not crazy.

    Reply
  25. glbarlow - July 14, 2020 2:40 pm

    What’s with the bread and mayonnaise…I tell my kids about walking down to my grandfather’s garden as a kid with a salt shaker, plucking them from the vine and eating them right there. Then dinner on many nights at her house, center of the table a heaping plate of huge red and yellow tomatoes sliced a half inch thick by my grandmom, I’d reach for the salt shaker and dig in. My kids just shake their heads, having heard this story a hundred times.

    Where is your neighbor’s house…..

    Reply
  26. Jim Hancock - July 14, 2020 3:12 pm

    Thanks,Sean,for reviving old memories. It is almost noon and I am gonna get a tomato from the garden for a sandwich in your honor. Oh,I prefer my Cherokee Purples, just picky.

    Reply
  27. Becky Ballentine - July 14, 2020 3:22 pm

    If they were his first tomatoes of the season, you might be in trouble. But there really is nothing better than that first tomato sandwich!!!! I buy a fresh loaf of bread for it even if there is already some in the pantry.

    Reply
  28. Linda Moon - July 14, 2020 4:47 pm

    You had me at the first sentence….the one about Eternal Flame. This former Baptist teacher of children absolves you. I’m going Somewhere, too, where I’ll be a Heavenly Free Bird and maybe in good company with you once you’ve repented of your (understandably) thieving ways. But let’s don’t get together THERE, Sean, until I’ve had some more time with you at Live Events HERE!

    Reply
  29. Mike Bone - July 14, 2020 5:39 pm

    I will see you there.

    Reply
  30. Maxine - July 14, 2020 6:15 pm

    Sean, repent, confess and pay the price of 2 delicious BEEFSTAKE tomatoes to your good neighbors for raising the makings of a tomato for a sandwich which tastes exactly like Elvis singing the national anthem.

    Reply
  31. Sonya Tuttle - July 14, 2020 6:23 pm

    The heading for this column is “fruit of the vine” and I expected to read about grapes. But it isn’t. Sean, tomatoes do not grow on VINES! Nevertheless, I did enjoy the whole wickedly evil episode in your life! You tried to connect with the owners, so no big deal. They would have given you a boatload anyway!

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  32. Lita - July 14, 2020 6:32 pm

    Tomorrow, lunch will be tomato sandwich for me and cooked tomatoes on toast for my best beloved. I wonder if the Garden of Eden’s Tree of Knowledge had tomatoes hanging from it. Love Apples are another name for tomatoes. It would explain why they’re so heavenly… 🙂

    Reply
  33. Teresa - July 14, 2020 8:51 pm

    Just make your neighbor a tomato pie and all will be forgiven! If you never have had tomato pie you need to try it!!

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  34. Jackie McClung - July 14, 2020 10:49 pm

    For me – skip the mayo and put peanut butter on both slices of bread with about a 3/4 inch slice of tomato between. Your tomato can’t slide out like it does with mayo.

    Reply
  35. Nancy M - July 15, 2020 1:39 am

    I John 1:9
    My favorite verse. One of them, actually.

    “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

    I need this every day.

    Reply
  36. Christina - July 15, 2020 6:43 am

    For the love of tomatoes 🍅

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  37. Chasity Davis Ritter - July 15, 2020 12:18 pm

    Oh Sean…. I will pray for you!!! Seriously though I will but yes I too love the SMELL of tomato plants. That green smell of summer time. We went to see my mother in law Saturday (did our best to social distance) but I couldn’t keep out of her tomato plants in her garden. I stuck my face right in there and inhaled that heavenly scent. Thanks for the smile today and always.

    Reply
  38. Judy Riley - July 15, 2020 1:00 pm

    Sean, I love tomato sandwiches too. Never heard of a tomato sandwich until I lived in Georgia and then I was like the old lady in the McDonald commercial,,,,”Where’s the bologna (meat)?” Now I live in Marianna, Fl, a stones throw from Alabamer and Georgiar,,,been here almost 50 years and tomato sandwich quickly became just one step down from heaven. I tell you this because I have discovered heaven……add a slice of vidalia onion to that tomato sandwich, a little salt and you are right there on the steps of the pearly gates!!!!

    Reply
  39. Janice - July 15, 2020 1:36 pm

    I do love a mater sandwich as much as any Summer tradition I can think of. Especially those grown in Mama’s garden. What I wouldn’t do for one right now. Guess I’d be carrying pitchforks, too.

    Reply
  40. Sharon Lawson - July 15, 2020 3:22 pm

    Wonder, wonderful piece. Made me laugh so hard at all the teachers you’ve had. I have a personal relationship with Jesus and He WILL forgive you. Because I know He will. I get so much joy out of your work. This one was great!!!

    Reply
  41. Mark - July 16, 2020 3:28 am

    Tomatoes do grow on the vines of the plant.
    That is why you support the with baskets or stakes, to keep them off the ground. Look it up on Google!

    Reply
  42. Jane Hampton - July 16, 2020 2:09 pm

    Hilarious! Maybe your neighbor will forgive you.

    Reply
  43. Gordon Scott - July 17, 2020 10:35 am

    Teresa, I have the same palate. I can’t abide fresh tomatoes, but love them prepared in every way. I started a garden for my sanity and because my wife likes tomatoes. She is now in the heavenly months, eating chocolate cherry, Garden Gem, Amish paste, San Marzano, and her favorite, black krim.

    We do a bit of canning also. i made four half pints of raspberry jam last night from my little patch in the back. She can’t eat raspberries.

    Reply
  44. Jewell - July 18, 2020 10:43 pm

    Loved this one

    Reply
  45. Kenneth dowell - July 23, 2020 2:37 pm

    Sounds mighty fine, but why drive a Ford when you can drive a caddy? Just take 2 slices whole grain bread, lather one with a copious layer of peanut butter as many slices of tomato as you can get on it, slice a green bell pepper, put on as many slices as you can an start livin.

    Reply

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