Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Image courtesy of Okie Dan

When people talk about the family line sometimes there are specific traits that form connections between individuals. These can be like the dots in a “connect the dots” picture that trace lineage and show direct heritage. Some families pass down personality traits such as stubbornness or good humor. Others pass physical traits like red hair or long flexible toes, characteristics that tie one generation to the next an identifiable code that can allow strangers like botanists to classify individual specimens into families. My family has plenty of physical and character traits but there is another feature which seems to be reoccurring: the need to grow tomatoes. This goes way back.

My great grandmother had a huge tomato patch. She was known for them and had a side business selling them. By the patch was a tree with a hollow spot hidden in a crook of its trunk. There she kept a salt shaker so people when people wished to sample her wares they could. The tree still stands but there are no tomatoes today nor is there a salt shaker in that tree. My grandparents met in that tomato patch and a few years later got married. Love apples indeed. Ever since then and probably before then my family has grown tomatoes.

All varieties have been cultivated by my kin: heirloom tomatoes when they were just called tomatoes, hybrids when newly in vogue in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s and heirlooms again when they became called that. We don’t have special seeds handed down from one generation to the next, though it would be wonderful if we did; it doesn't matter, we grow what we have. Even at family reunions where relatives from all corners of the country assemble, everyone brings their tomatoes to compare and contrast. And with tomatoes comes endless conversational opportunities. People you haven’t seen in years are suddenly comparing dirt, seeds, transplants, soil amendments, heirloom versus hybrid, tomato cages, and tomatoes they grew last year or the year before. It’s really a unifier among gardeners it makes families out of strangers even when sometimes those strangers are your family.

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