My dad always grew big, red, firm and delicious tomatoes in his garden. He was famous for them.
Usually around the week after July 4, the tomatoes would be ready, and they were incredible. So delicious you could just eat them off the vine while standing in the garden. Or you could have fantastic bacon and tomato sandwiches—with a little mayo. I liked mine on toast. Or just tomato slices on bread. Sometimes we would have them for lunch… and then again for dinner. Dad liked his thick slices of tomato with salt and pepper. We had decided that something in the tomato (maybe the acid) heathfully counteracted the fat and cholesterol contained in the bacon.
My dad used to sell his tomatoes at a little stand he had in his front yard. People would take how many tomatoes they wanted, and leave the money for him in a jar, or pay him later….or at least intend to pay him later. For the last few years, my brother sold Dad’s tomatoes at his country store. We couldn’t pick them fast enough. Dad would bring a cardboard crate of carefully picked tomatoes down to the lakehouse for us to eat while we were there for a couple weeks in the summer. He would carry them in with a big smile. I miss that smile even more than the tomatoes.
The nurses at the hospital where Dad went for his chemo and check-ups always looked forward to Dad’s appointments because he would bring them some of his tomatoes. Since Dad died there are none of his tasty tomatoes this summer. My brother tried. He planted rows and rows of tomato plants. But the weather was really rainy, and he just couldn’t duplicate Dad’s famous beefsteak tomatoes. At least not this summer. I’m sure he will try again next summer.
As much as I miss biting into that first ripe tomato of the summer, a part of me thinks that it is fitting that without my Dad there are no tomatoes. It wouldn’t seem fair if the tomato plants grew in the garden and produced those beautiful, tasty ripe tomatoes without Dad’s special tending. It somehow is oddly comforting that things aren’t the same without him—kind of like a recognition of what I already knew—that he played a unique role in this world, and he simply can’t be replaced. Even so, I hope that next summer, or perhaps the next summer after that, my brother succeeds and at least comes close to producing tomatoes like Dad used to. Because then when I bite into those first tomatoes of summer, the taste and smell will bring back all those wonderful memories, and for a few moments, Dad and his smile will be back.