It took Garrison Keillor’s column today, “Let’s Make Tomatoes Great Again”, to leave me waxing nostalgia about favorite childhood moments. Picking tomatoes from my grandfather’s garden in my grandparents backyard is one of them. By the time my cousins and I were born, I understand that the garden was much smaller than it was when my mom was little. My grandfather was born and raised in Tennessee and after World War II, settled in Richmond. After a few years in an apartment over a corner store in Jackson Ward (that property is quite a coveted spot now, let me tell you!!!), he and my grandmother with their two kids moved into a cute house in Church Hill with a nice sized backyard. Plenty of space for a garden.
I remember being told that in their early days the garden was nearly the size of the backyard. I remember it being about half that size when I was little and sadly as he got older, the garden got smaller. Eventually to my dismay, and that of others, it was no more. He used to give peas, corn, peppers, lettuce, and tomatoes to neighbors. My fond memories as a kid include going out back to pick tomatoes off the vine and other vegetables for dinner. It was just that big.
Now with just about everything comes a consequence if it’s too much. In this case, for me, it was the abundance of tomatoes. I still remember pulling those red, juicy, dusty things off the vine, armed with a white Tupperware salt shaker (which resembled a column), and chomping away. There’s still nothing in the world like a fresh tomato off the vine with that itty bitty dirt on it. Yep, I grew up in the city, but my grandfather’s country roots are long a part of me… along with my love for bonafide country music – the real stuff, George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Lord, don’t get me started on my girl, Patsy Cline. (And there I digress…) Anyway, my phantom tomato devouring got the best of me one summer when my face began to break out into little splotches. The doctor told me I couldn’t eat tomatoes any more. Agog, I was, no doubt. Yet, in spite of his diagnosis about the tomatoes being the culprit for my temporary malady, the medicine he prescribed worked well enough and I went back to my tomatoes! Haven’t had a problem since!
Funny thing is now – with all of the newfangled ones in the produce sections, I don’t eat them as much as I used to. I wish I’d learned to grow them myself. I’m not a fan of those cardboard Roma tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes taste like bland water. The ones left on the vine, called “Tomatoes on the Vine” are okay, but they’re so dang clean, they don’t taste like they’re “on the vine”. When I can get them fresh from a roadside vendor or a farmer’s market, I’m back in my element, and once again sitting in the middle of my grandfather’s garden next to the vine slurping up a dusty, tasty tomato with that shaker of salt.