I believe in homegrown tomatoes: warm, crimson, juicy, with the taste of heaven. I inherited this belief from my grandmother, although I did so in a round-about way. As the family gardener, my grandmother provided food for our summer and winter tables—corn, squash, beets, carrots, potatoes. This was her job, not her pleasure.
Yet my grandmother kept two small, separate garden plots on our family’s farm. In them she planted morning glories, sweet peas, dinner-plate dahlias, hollyhocks. After a day of watering, weeding, and fertilizing vegetables, she tended these flowers. She made bouquets for her bedroom; dried blossoms for winter; gave cuttings and seeds to friends.
When I got older, I eventually understood why she would garden flowers after she was done gardening vegetables: her flowers were a small gift to herself, a gift that never detracted from her duty to her family, but, nevertheless, a gift she quietly cherished.
Because I misunderstood my grandmother’s belief, misunderstood why she planted flowers, my own first gardens were planted solely with flowers. After all, my small urban yard was only big enough for a single garden plot. And the supermarket was only minutes away. And I had a good job. Obviously, I didn’t need to grow food for my table.
But that, of course, was the key—although I didn’t need to grow tomatoes, I longed for the pleasure of their homegrown richness.
Now I do not tend flowers (except, perhaps, for the occasional marigold or hollyhock). Instead, my small garden is planted with herbs, vegetables, and, especially, tomatoes. I water and weed my garden when I get home from work in summer; I pluck tomatoes warm from the vine, slice them thickly, eat them raw with salt and mayonnaise. I give the surpluses to family and friends.
It is clear to me that my homegrown tomatoes are my version of my grandmother’s flowers. My grandmother, vegetable provider for a herd of farm kids, would probably not fully understand. Or maybe she would. My tomatoes are small gifts to myself that do not detract from my obligation to others. They are small gifts to myself which I cherish.
Small gifts to yourself are simple things outside of your work-a-day world that bring with them great pleasure. When our world seems its most complicated, when our lives are governed by the requirement of meeting other people’s needs, when by necessity our direction must be outward, we must give ourselves small gifts. My grandmother knew this, and she taught me to know it too. I believe we must all “grow our own tomatoes.”
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