By CAROLE DAVIS
My daddy grew the best tomatoes in all of Oktibbeha County. Vegetable gardening was his hobby. He planted lots of other vegetables all year round, but his tomatoes took the number one prize every summer. We loved his cabbage, cucumbers, okra, beans, turnip greens and turnips. We all enjoyed eating everything he ever planted and harvested. I think daddy was happiest piddling around and sweating in his garden spot.
Mama’s’ kitchen always smelled absolutely heavenly and very divine. She took the cucumbers, making the greatest chow chow using her metal sharp grater as she cut the cucumber off it’s head of cabbage. Chow chow, with its various hues of green, looks magnificent in a pint jar with the label saying, “Ball” jar on the top screwed tightly and securely to be served on the top of daddy’s green string beans fresh from his garden. Mama pantry in the kitchen was her very own work of art, and when she opened up the door, it became her master painting for that year. The day she would strew her tomatoes made the whole house just beam with a great big huge smile from all those fabulous smells coming from her pots. She would can the whole tomatoes, and on a cold winter’s night we would open one of those jars up from that year’s tomato patch put up in the glass jars, sprinkle salt and pepper on the bowl full of tomato, and it was good to the last bite.
My family, mama, daddy and my baby brother, Johnny who was four years younger use to set up our very own tomato stand underneath the now 101 year old pecan tree near our drive way and really near the busy Louisville Street. We hand made our own sign which read, “Homegrown Tomatoes For Sale. Honk Horn If We Are Not Here.”
We had white scales to weight daddy’s prize tomatoes, and we had so much fun waving to folks as they slowly passed by and glanced our way all morning long. We even had regular customers, and suddenly we had money jingling in our blue jean pockets. I turned to my little brother, “Hey, Johnny its Saturday afternoon, want to go up town to the Rex picture show and take in a Western movie this hot afternoon? Let’s go and ask Mama if we can take a break and go down the lane (which is now called Wood Street) and cut through going on to Main Street.” “We probably have enough to go on down to the Britt’s Cafe (which is now The Starkville Cafe’) or even to Bell’s Cafe’. Let’s go on inside the front door and ask Mama if we can go, want to?”
Mama agreed, and off we scooted toward Main Street. We loaded up on hot popcorn spilling half of it in the dark picture show finding our seats, real sodas in Coke Cola tiny bottles, big round suckers and Junior Mints. The picture show really began after all the future previews of cowboy movies coming up for the rest of this summer.
We were literally raised growing up and eating millions and millions of daddy’s homegrown tomatoes, and he loved to plant, nurture and pick his very favorite brand called, “The Big Boy Tomato!” Sometimes one might just be 4 pounds in weight. We would sprinkle salt on one and gobble it down very quickly and reach for another one. We shared and gave our friends and family tomatoes as love gifts showering our appreciation on many other friends showing them of our love for their own love and friendship to us all year long.
A tomato is really a fruit, but we consider a tomato one Mississippi’s number one vegetable. We treasure our tomatoes on our over-100 degree days and slightly cooler nights. We use to just sit on our big ‘ole wrap around porch eating a tomato as if it were our desert. Our heat down here in the deep south is unbearable some of the July and August days and nights, and a freshly picked tomato right off the vine is worth a million dollars to us as it slides down into our tummies!
Over 30 years ago on an early Sept.27 in the 1980s I was all grown up with three wonderful children and six grandchildren of my very own along with my dear sweet husband. I suppose I was remembering my own early memories of my happy childhood, and I wanted to paint some of Daddy’s fine “Big Boy Tomatoes.” I went out the back screen door down here at the ‘ole house, heard the back screen door slam behind me and heard Mama saying, “Carole, don’t slam that door, and don’t let the house flies inside!”
I made my way down to daddy’s tomato patch and picked four of his very last big tomatoes off vines. I reached over and plucked three of his long green peppers. I brought them all back inside and went right to the sink in our big old-fashioned kitchen with those 12-foot-tall ceilings and began to wash them underneath the sink faucet. I got out the round tin pan with holes in the bottom to let the water drain from the tomatoes and peppers. I looked up in the tall cabinet, climbed up on a tall stool and got out a red/brown wooden basket type of bowl. I placed them all inside the bowl.
I went over to the round kitchen table and placed a bright green place mat underneath the now filled bowl with tomatoes and peppers. I got out all of my water colors, popped up my easel and begin to sketch what I saw right in front of me. I was going to paint on a 12-inch-by-16-inch hard watercolor board. Our entire big ‘ole kitchen had become my art studio for the day. I was in my own little heaven now, and inside my own secret bubble world creating a sweet, delicious memory of my own growing up days of so many years ago.
Let’s start reading the painting which I titled, “The Last 4 Tomatoes and 3 Peppers Of Summer!” Look at the light blue background and as your eyes travel to the right side it is slightly bluer in color. This blue cools down the hot orange/red tomatoes and the warm lime greens of the peppers. Look at the light, dark and even touches of dark maroon/black I used in the wooden bowl.
Your eyes move immediately to the four orange/red tomatoes. They are absolutely juicy, delicious and so beautiful! The most detailed tomato is at the very top of the other tomatoes. This one is resting on the top of both of the middle tomatoes, and the fourth one is showing some of her green underneath the top of the tomato turned upside down, but really is the top of the tomato. Find the three green peppers. The brightest one is the bright green pepper. The other two peppers are golden yellow with touches of lime green. Find the stems of the peppers too. And let your eyes go to the bottom of the wooden bowl. See it the darkest brown holding the bowl together at the bottom. I love the almost black back at the top of the bowl making your eyes just love the top tomato. I used the even number of four tomatoes and the bowl makes the odd number of 5 to become more artistically eye-appealing. I think this colored wooden bowl complimented the four tomatoes and added that almost same orange/red color. The three peppers gave me the odd number to artistically appeal to your eyes. I loved the light lemon yellow of the edge of the round kitchen table, and the same “Saint Patrick Green” color of the table mat blended in well with the three peppers too.
“The Last 4 Tomatoes and 3 Peppers of Daddy’s Summer Garden” hangs on our kitchen wall today in the year 2012. I enjoy looking at it every day as I look up on the wall by the wavy glass door which leads us out into the screened in wrap-around porch to a wonderful squeaky white swing.
I know that I can never go back to my childhood, but having the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity be able to live in our family home here where I grew up can make old memories come alive once again. I can close my eyes and feel like Johnny and myself are back out on the front sidewalk with our sign up surrounded by hundreds of tomatoes around us underneath the ‘ole pecan tree waiting for a customer to drive by and stop and buy a sack of Daddy’s tomatoes. I can still smell Mama’s tomatoes stewing on top of her hot stove in the hot summer time early morning before it got to hot... that she put the tomatoes up in the old Ball fruit jars for a cold winter’s night supper with crackers and lots of salt and pepper on them served in a big old heavy bowl. I can see us both skipping up town to the Rex Theater/ Picture Show, and hear the cowboys shooting their guns at the outlaws. I can hear the horn honking for us to come out the front screen door, hearing it slam behind us and the words, “Hello.We’ll buy some tomatoes from y’all! Only two things that money can’t buy: That’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.