Tomatoes

My husband is using online retail therapy to cope with this pandemic. His purchases are mostly baking, cooking or gardening related. Yesterday, I came downstairs to find a box with a full greenhouse tent for the backyard, waiting to be unpacked.

This week he also decided to buy a number of different seeds: chili peppers and tomatoes primarily.

The tomatoes make me most excited.

When I was young, my dad had a prized tomato garden. It was his passion. He would watch the weather channel religiously to try to anticipate the first frost, always worrying about his crop. Each season, we’d have multiple one gallon buckets full of unripe, green tomatoes crowding our basement in order to protect them from the cold.

With so many plants, my youth was spent eating tomatoes like apples, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We had an endless supply, given to neighbors, friends and the occasional passerby.

His question to his tomatoes and to their consumers: “are they rich and full?” This was a phrase in my family for years, for anything, really, that was produce related. Whenever we’d bite into a grape or a kiwi or an orange slice. “Is it rich and full?” I am still not even sure what it means.

Juicy, ripe, healthy looking, I suppose. My dad had an eye for these things. He was easily critical of other people’s vegetable gardens – if it was a bad year, if the plants needed stakes, if they didn’t have enough water, what kind of flowers were seasonal vs. annual, or too weak for the New England climate.

When we went for walks, he’d point out expensive shrubs, knowing quickly how much a garden cost based on what was inside.

These things never mattered to me much when I was young. I took it all for granted. My dad’s endless encyclopedic knowledge of gardening. But now I wish I knew more. I wish I knew the names of certain plants, or what can flourish where. There is something beautiful about tending to something while it grows.

That’s why I was so happy when, today, in a long list of tomatoes from all over the world, in different colors and sizes, I correctly selected the picture of the ones I knew best. The ones I wanted most for our new greenhouse. “Native to North America.” The ones from his garden. The ones able to grow rich and full.

Slippers

My dad had three pairs of shoes: his LLBean duck boots, and his black slippers – one pair in suede, and the other in leather. The leather ones had hard plastic soles and were deemed his dress slippers; he’d wear them to formal events accordingly.

Growing up, I never thought of this as particularly strange. I can’t think of a time he wore sneakers, for instance. During my childhood, he was at one time a limo driver and at another, a country club bartender, so he did own one pair of shiny tuxedo shoes for work, but otherwise there was nothing in between. He went to the supermarket in his slippers, to weddings, to restaurants.

The two sets always sat by the door, ready for their next event. Before we’d go out, he’d pick accordingly. Sometimes he’d ask to make sure. “What type of thing is this? Should I wear my dress slippers?”

I think now that my dad was ahead of his time. Today, shoes seem obsolete when considering the comfort of working and bunkering from home. Everyone has a pair of dress slippers now.

Inspired by him, whenever it’s not raining, I put on my “formal” slippers and step onto the balcony, or into the grass, to enjoy the rays.

I like to think he’d approve, as I stand outside in my PJs for all the neighbors to see, me in my formal slippers, ready to take on the day.