Tomatoes bring guilt

 Every time I pull into our driveway, I start thinking about tomatoes and feeling a little guilty.

A tomato plant is growing up right through the concrete, at least it seems so. Actually, I think its roots go down between cracks in the curb. Ever since it came up, my wife has been out there nurturing it.

When it started blooming, Jenny even set a tomato cage around it, much to the annoyance of the mail carrier who no longer can maneuver his truck close enough to the mailbox to deliver the mail without getting out of the truck.

Now, it’s even got a couple of tomatoes hanging on the vine, so my guilt increases every time I pass it.

It brings back memories of my father, who died seven years ago in Kansas City. My dad had a love of homegrown tomatoes that was second only to that for his family.

He ate tomatoes every day all summer, sometimes with cottage cheese, often a whole plateful at a sitting. He used to plant legions of them, and he constantly harped at my sister, Donna, and me to plant them, too.

Donna and her husband, Homer, dutifully obliged.

They had lots of tomatoes—more than they could use—but their efforts never quite measured up in Dad’s eyes. He didn’t think Homer tied them properly, which to him meant tying each new branch as it grew.

I, on the other hand, failed year after year to produce tomatoes. I followed Dad’s Midwestern-style instructions meticulously: Dig a deep hole to retain water, plunk in the tomato plant, don’t replace much of the dirt and mulch with a lot of straw.

But in our Southern clay, the holes held the water and the plants drowned. After a couple of years, I gave up.

You would have thought I had turned my back on the family. Nearly every telephone call got around to the fact that I ought to be growing tomatoes. 

After Jenny and I were married in 1999, she got tired of hearing about it.

“If he wants us to grow tomatoes, the least we can do is grow tomatoes,” she said, and she and Joe planted some.

I scoffed.

But hers grew, and she became a favorite of my father almost overnight. The secret was not to follow Dad’s directions.

She just stuck the tomato plants in the ground, watered them every day or so and threw Miracle Gro on them once a week. She didn’t even tie the branches; she just draped them over a wood fence.

That summer, every telephone conversation with Dad revolved around how many tomatoes we had gotten since the last call.

Were we keeping up with them by eating tomatoes every night? And weren’t we glad he had suggested growing tomatoes so we didn’t have to eat those store-bought things? Well, you get the picture.

My father died, and somewhere along the way we stopped planting tomatoes. I think I suggested we didn’t have a good place among the nicely landscaped flower beds.

Maybe, we’ll get a tomato or two off the plant in the crack. I hope so, and next year, we’re going to plant tomatoes again.

It’ll make us think of Dad. 


T. Wayne Mitchell, interim publisher of the Gazette, can be reached by phone at 662-534-6321 or e-mail at