Ancient History

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Throwing tomatoes with love

My mom and dad, fall 2011

My dad once joked he met my mom at a Young Republicans meeting. I believed him for years, until my mother intervened and told me the true story. They met at a professional singles function when my dad tripped over her foot. She says it was an accident, my dad contends it was purposeful. Either way, he fell for her and they’ve been married for 37 43 years today.

Their first date was to historic and now non-existent* Elitch Gardens. It was a quaint but wildly popular amusement park with a ballroom, huge trees, and gorgeous gardens. Sometime during the date my mom asked my dad about his hobbies. He answered he liked to grow tomatoes.

This charmed her.

Every summer, as far as my memory lunges back, there has been a least one tomato plant growing somewhere in their yard. Tomato plants always belong to my dad, just as the mums lining the driveway and the roses in the corner garden belong to my mom. Other crops came and went. We had green beans, pumpkins, radishes, cucumbers, carrots, strawberries, asparagus, a doomed apricot tree, and a thriving apple tree planted by my brother when he was in Kindergarten. None of these vegetables or fruits were constant, except the tomatoes.

There were wheelbarrow summers, when the old blue rusty one-wheeled wonder saw a lot of action. Loaded with tomatoes and worthy of being photographed with my smiling dad in his striped shirt, or loaded with kids as he took us on wild backyard rides better than anything whirling at Elitches—it was a good summer when the wheelbarrow was propped against the back of the house. Brown grocery bags bulged as he shared the harvest with friends and family. I think of all those tomatoes sliced to top grilled hamburgers or canned for hybernation and hunkering winter sauces. An unfortunate, secret side effect of bumper crops is the waste—I can remember throwing tomatoes as if they were juicy bombs, smacking my sister as she rode her bike nearby.

There were years of disappointment when the green caterpillars were fatter than any tomato. The plants didn’t grow and didn’t produce. Those years summer seemed to plod along, too, with no wheelbarrow rides because the wheelbarrow was in the crawlspace giving shelter to spiders. The few good tomatoes were prized and saved for something special, like steak night, to be chopped into the green salad or sliced and salted.

Despite the unstellar, he tried again each spring.

They tried again. They’ve tried again. And they’ve tried again, through wheelbarrow years and years when the spiders were smug. From watching their marriage, the years seem to be more wheelbarrow than not. It was the not-years that made the biggest impact on me.

Those tomatoes were delicious because they were prized. They weren’t prized because they were delicious.

Happy anniversary, mom and dad.

(this is my favorite anniversary post about them ~ about us ~ few things remind me more of childhood than thoughts of their yearly garden)

*** “Elitches” still exists. It was bought by Six Flags, stripped of every last shred of character and charm, moved to downtown Denver, and Bugs Bunny and $4 lemonades were installed.

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