August 4, 2023

The Harvest is Abundant!

Summertime at Casa Maria means many things, but this year it has meant tomatoes, tomatoes, and more tomatoes! At the moment, we have an abundance of them, grown in our very own courtyard – between the roses and azaleas. There are among us sisters who are happily eating tomatoes two and three times a day! I have never been able to get on board with having them at every single meal, but I must say that a tomato grown in your yard is a completely different thing than one bought in a store.

But anyway, by now you are probably wondering, how did the sisters become tomato farmers? Well, we have had a few plants and attempts over the years, but this year’s crop began many years ago with my Grandad, Guy Whitfill. While I was growing up in rural Kentucky, I remember every summer he would grow these special yellow tomatoes. They were, in his humble opinion, the best that were to be had. Each year he would save seeds to be planted next season. But one spring, the seeds were not to be found! Being of a suspicious turn of mind, he always blamed one particular cousin. No one knows if he was right (except, I suppose, the cousin), but most folks thought Grandad just lost them himself. But either way, his famous yellow tomatoes were no more, to the regret of all.

Sister Mary Anthony’s family with Grandad

Fast forward many years. My brother Andrew and his wife bought the house of my great aunt, who had lived nearby. As they were cleaning out and fixing up the house, Andrew found an envelope under the kitchen sink marked, “Guy’s yellow tomatoes.” He didn’t tell Grandad, but planted them just to see, and lo and behold! They grew, bore fruit, and Grandad’s tomatoes were back! You can imagine Grandad’s delight when Andrew took him some of the resurrected tomatoes. Well since then, my family has been enjoying them every year, thanks to my great aunt and Andrew, now the official steward of the family tomatoes. (And Saint Anthony might have had something to do with it too!)

Fast forward several more years. One day while visiting my folks, I was cutting up a delicious Whitfill Family Tomato when I decided to save the seeds and see how they would do in Sweet Home Alabama. Mother gave permission (She is usually keen on anything having to do with fresh produce), and Sister Mary Thomas half volunteered / was half volun-told to become our official tomato grower. She was up to the task. After a couple of years experimenting, and finding a good location, this year has yielded a bumper crop, a cause of joy to everyone! Sister Ave Maria, who has an irrepressible green thumb, has also gotten in on the action, planting a few plants of her own. Her tomatoes are a red, crinkly variety, and the two together have provided a very colorful dinner table!

Well, there are numerous morals that could be drawn from this story, (death and resurrection, be fruitful and multiply, the good steward who brings out the new and the old, the perfection of God’s timing, etc.) but I leave that to your own meditation. I will give the last word to that great American poet, John Denver, quoting a few poignant lines from his masterpiece, “Homegrown Tomatoes.” Here’s hoping y’all have a happy and delicious summer!

Plant ’em in the spring, you eat ’em in the summer
All winter without ’em’s a culinary bummer
I forget all about the sweatin’ and the diggin’
Every time I go out and pick me a big’un.

Homegrown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes
What’d life be without homegrown tomatoes?
Only two things that money can’t buy
And that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes!

If I’s to change this life I lead
You could call me Johnny Tomatoseed
‘Cause I know what this country needs
Homegrown tomatoes’n every yard you see!