Tomatoes, Insight, and Love

A Father's Day tribute to my dad.

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My dad did not suffer fools gladly. At age 13 he went to work in the coalmines after his father was killed in a mining accident. As the oldest son, it was his responsibility. He was a good provider for our family too, first working in the mines and then as a surveyor and safety inspector for an insurance company. He was not the kind of dad who would come see you perform in your class play or at a sporting event or ask you about your day. But there was always food on the table and a safe and comfortable home.

One thing he did love was gardening, in particular growing tomatoes. He had little interest in flowers, preferring side crops of onions and peppers. I have a fond childhood memory of a day when I went with him to buy tomato plants, onion sets, and peppers. I spotted a packet of flower seeds, Bachelor Buttons. I was enchanted by the pink and blue flowers in the picture and begged him to buy them for me. He did and for that year at least there was a scraggly row of flowers running between the tomato plants.

As gruff as he was, my dad had a soft spot for an underdog. When my son was born with numerous health and developmental challenges, my dad became his greatest champion. He would send him letters and actually chat with him on the phone. Dad was never much for idle chatter but for Bren he had time. My son had severe food allergies and one of the few foods he could eat was… tomatoes. Dad became my tomato consultant as I began growing my own in patio pots. I learned the fine art of pinching off suckers to promote growth and why it was always a good idea to plant some Big Boys. Dad was bewildered by my consideration of heirloom varieties… why when we know what good eating his favorites were?

My dad passed away years ago but I felt close to him every year when I planted my pots. Then my son died in December. I am now thinking of both him and my dad as I pull off the suckers. This year I have a long row of pots on my deck, full of yellow blossoms that will soon be replaced with green and then ripe, red tomatoes. It is only since my son’s death that I understand, as I look at the row of pots in full bloom, it is not about how many tomatoes I can grow. I don’t even like tomatoes. It’s about love. And I love you Dad, glad you were there to greet my son. I’ll keep growing and sharing these red beauties and thinking of you both.

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