I believe in the power of tomatoes to heal the heart. I learned this when I was twelve years old, a time of life when every act – even the simplest of ones – might take on ritual importance. I came to know this special thing about tomatoes because of a desire to share the company an adult, my uncle – a kind of father figure to me, in the frequent absence of my own. He was my mother’s brother and was a student of theatre, a soul-damaged veteran of world war two and an itinerant carpenter by trade (although I didn’t know any of that until years later). What I did know of him was that he laughed a lot, often wore a hat, even when bare-chested, and that he was tall and muscular.
As a frail younger child, I had once run fearfully from a barking dog, and climbed to the safety of the rooftop of his old Model A – only to fall through its age-rotted fabric and into the back seat. I was so afraid I had ruined his car. My father, had he been there, would have beat me soundly for such a thing. I cried and cried in anticipation of my fate – until I heard my uncle’s laughter. He had a great laugh.
Years later – now, I was twelve – he visited our family and sizing up the day and my new found gangly height he turned to me and said; “Well, Martin, it looks like it time for us to have a talk.” Then he grabbed the saltshaker from our kitchen counter, ushered me out to our back yard garden and picked two red ripe tomatoes. Holding one out to me he led me on a leisurely walk around our neighborhood block, eating our tomatoes and sharing the saltshaker as we strolled. Together we walked side by side, man and boy but I felt like it was man to man as he shared his thoughts about life and asked me for mine. The tomatoes were warm and sweet from the summer sun. We did this daily until his brief visit was over.
I have been unable to look at a tomato since, without memories of that moment and have shared this story with many friends and family. In that one act of respect and kindness I felt invited into the world of manhood, and the fear of all things I had come to believe were fatherly, fell away. This is how my heart was healed and how I came to know that a man can show love and be a man. This I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.