Thursday, May 15, 2008

In the flesh...

...of one home-grown tomato, I found the summers of my childhood.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a real tomato, not the grainy kind the supermarket sells, but the plump, juice-filled variety that my grandfather used to grow. When I saw a few of them sitting on the counter at the little corner store, I had to have one.

The first bite brought with it the taste of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and fresh corn on the cob, all washed down with a tall glass of sweetened iced tea. My favorite part of that meal used to be the very end of it, when the juice from the sliced tomatoes mingled with the butter left behind by the corn. I’d stall until everyone else had left the table, then I’d pick up my plate and drink every last drop of that salty juice.

The second bite opened a mental window that looked out onto the backyard of the home where I grew up. On the left was Packy’s garden, the corn growing taller than he was, almost obscuring him in his khaki clothing as he leaned over to pluck a fat worm from a tomato plant and plop it into the hand of my fearless little sister.

A grapevine covered the low fence that ran down the middle of the backyard. The purple grapes made my mouth itch, but I ate my fill. My grandmother harvested the rest of the grapes and turned them into jellies, jams, and quart jars of grapejuice.

At the front end of the grapevine fence, the end nearest the back porch, my grandmother grew morning glories, hydrangeas, marigolds and pansies. Along the length of the grapevine, she grew lilies, sunflowers, and spiky gladiolus. The sweet perfume of the flowers drifted to the far side of the yard and caressed the laundry that hung on the clothesline every Monday the weather permitted.

One bite of a tomato took me home.

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