The grass was dry and crispy and a wind of change was blowing in the air along with the very first falling leaves. It was nearing the end of my ninth summer and my brother’s 10th. We were old enough to know right from wrong but too young to care about the consequences.
We spent our time like most kids in the 1980s: riding our bikes through the neighborhood, exploring our woods, drinking straight out of the water hose and staying outside until dark. Except this afternoon was different, we had a massive fight.
Like many other sibling wars, I don’t remember what started the battle. I can only remember the outcome. That particular hot day of August, the outcome was tomato skins and seeds splattered all over the cedar siding on my parents’ house.
It probably started with us barefoot in the garden grabbing a quick snack of snap peas and cherry tomatoes. Then angry words led to running and tomato slinging which turned out to be a lot of fun. We weren’t even smart enough to spray the evidence off the house with the hose after we drank out of it. We let it bake in the summer heat like a ceramic vase in a kiln.
What sounded like a grizzly bear, or maybe even a feral pig, was the guttural yell of my dad when he found the tomatoes. I had to choose quickly, run and hide or assume an innocent look. My brother chose sweet talking with a mix of sarcasm as he noted the color and vast spray on the siding. It was a bad choice. I went with innocence.
Clearly, my brother seemed to know more about the tomatoes than me, and he was the only culprit. I didn’t do it, but I would help clean it up to show my depth of character. We were quite a pair. I’m sure my dad didn’t believe a word of it.
The tomatoes were his prized Egyptian heirloom tomatoes. He grew rows of them and then dried the seeds on paper plates all over the house. He belonged to a seed exchange and loved sending the seeds all over the world. He saved a letter from a master gardener at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello requesting his seeds. The legend of the seeds is that they descended from seeds found in an Egyptian tomb. However, a more likely scenario is that the variety originated in South America.
Much like my dad and his Egyptian tomatoes, I have my own favorite varieties. I love the flavor of roma, hillbilly, and Mr. Stripey tomatoes. These days, a substantial tomato mess can be found in my kitchen instead of outside.
A sweet aroma fills the house when a large batch of marinara is simmering. My kids prefer my husband’s fresh salsa; I add too much garlic and too little cilantro to mine. He also makes the world’s best tomato soup, freezing extra portions to last through the winter months. We anxiously await the first ripe tomato and then fall behind when all the plants produce massive amounts at once.
Many of our tomato plants are volunteer plants sprouting sporadically in one end of our garden. Imagine our surprise the summer after the tomato battle when volunteer plants popped up in the flower bed under the living room window. We also found watermelon vines growing near the front porch, courtesy of a speed spitting competition. The difference was now it was okay to laugh about it in front of our dad.
As the years passed, we moved the battle inside. Instead of throwing tomatoes, my brother and I have a much more mature competition in the kitchen comparing delectable dishes. The food is good, but there’s nothing quite as satisfying as running barefoot in the garden, plucking fresh tomatoes off the vine, and washing them down with water from the hose.
It’s also extremely satisfying to squirt someone with an overripe tomato, but I didn’t do it. I heard it from my brother.
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