Late last winter, daughter Susy, the family horticulturalist, turned her kitchen into a mini-greenhouse.
She planted 6 varieties of heirloom tomato seeds in trays and set them out to grow. My son-in-law Curt rigged up Grow Lights to keep them as contented and comfortable as possible.
Every day, Susy would visit the little seedlings, sing a song or two, lead them in morning and night prayers, counsel them on their growing pains, encourage them to stand tall and proud. In short, Susy was more than their mother — she was their best friend. She was their author, their creator, their mentor. This was Susy’s shining moment – to make her mark on a cruel and unfeeling world that didn’t know the true value of indoor organic farming.
That’s what makes this such a heartbreaking story.
After the seeds really got started – I have to say this – it did get to be a bit of a drag. Anybody who visited at the Warden’s house was expected to traipse out to the kitchen and admire the little buggers. And listen, nothing is more demeaning than fawning, gushing, cooing and gurgling over a sprout. But we did. Because we could See Its Potential. Like Susy, we began to have visions of the Harvest to come.
Time went on. Early spring came and stayed. The temperature outside hovered between 55 and 60 degrees. Inside the kitchen, basking in the glow of the Grow Lights, the tomato plants thought they were in the tropics and they loved it. They grew and grew. In their innocence, they thought they were enjoying the good life and that more would surely follow. Susy continued nurturing her little charges, encouraging them with bedtime stories they hadn’t heard yet, like “The Little Engine That Could”.
April came. May came. The plants were overgrowing their cribs. Every day, Susy would put on her parka, overshoes and ear muffs and step outside. And every day, she’d come back inside and whisper to her disappointed greenery, “It won’t be today”.
Global warming has never been an issue in the Pacific Northwest, especially this year. Maintaining a summer wardrobe here is practically unheard of. (Except among my teenage granddaughters, of course. The other day I said to T.T., “Why aren’t you wearing a coat?” T.T. rolled her eyes. “Grandma, this IS a coat.” Actually, as far as I was concerned, it was a Kleenex tissue. But real fashionable. )
Now, back to the tomatoes. As they climbed ever upward into the upper kitchen cupboards, Susy kept a nervous eye on the thermometer and the calendar. She didn’t know what to do, how long to wait. But my grandson Neil did. “Mother” he said firmly. “Either take those things outside and plant them, or else keep the drapes closed. Otherwise, the neighbors are going to call the marijuana police”. Like he knew all about it.
And so it was, that one day in very late May, Susy conducted the Outdoor Planting Ceremony. If there was ever a time for Pomp and Circumstance, this was it. The tomato plants were graduating to the great outdoors. They were carefully and tenderly planted in Susy’s garden. All except six of them which were then transported to my yard where a second planting ceremony was held. There was applause. And yes, a tear or two. It was an emotional experience.
I can’t remember when we started telling our friends and neighbors about all the tomatoes we’d be sending their way. Susy and I started collecting recipes off the internet for all the ways to serve, cook, saute, store, can, preserve and freeze tomatoes. We were on a roll. Two or three times a day we go outside to admire and count the little green balls that were miraculously emerging.
I suppose you know where this is going. A happy ending it isn’t. The little green balls are just staying that way, hiding in fear under all those shivering green plants. Who knew that we wouldn’t be having summer this year?
This morning, I opened the Seattle Times newspaper and there, a headline on the front page reads, “Making the most of your unripe tomatoes” See page 11. I quickly went to the page and found listed there several recipes in which one could use green tomatoes. Like Green Tomato Pie. I would try every single one of those recipes only I don’t know anyone who would eat slop like that.
Of course, it’s Susy I’m thinking about. I wish I could ease her pain. . . . But maybe – maybe there’s a way. If I can only get granddaughter Josie to cooperate. Josie, where’s your hair dye? The red one from last summer, The Clairol Red Hot Sultry I think it was called. You used it for the Do you were wearing when you applied for that perfectly good, well-paying clerical job at the Church of the Holy Countenance and Eternal Salvation that turned you down on account of your nose ring and tattoos. Is there any left in the bottle? Good.
I think you know what to do, dear.