I am very sorry to have to tell you about the death of my tomatoes. They died, not well, but bravely.
You may have read my earlier post about them. How daughter Susy raised them from itty bitty seeds, and then planted six in my back yard – each a different heirloom variety. How they raised my hopes and dreams, how I was going to win a Blue Ribbon at the Puyallup Fair; how I would give away bushels to my admiring family, friends, neighbors; I would freeze relish, ketchup, spaghetti sauce, chili sauce; I would have my photo taken standing with my arm around one of the bigger plants, smiling graciously and wearing my straw sun hat. Martha Stewart, eatcherheartout.
Normally, I have low expectations for what comes out of the dirt. Every houseplant I’ve ever owned, for instance, committed suicide while on my watch. It still hurts my feelings to talk about it. Early on, I learned to steel myself against having great expectations, because most plants are treacherous and uncaring. The only ones you can really trust to grow vigorously are weeds.
This time though, what amazed me is that the tomato plants flourished. And they began to produce dozens of little green balls that kept getting bigger and started turning red. I began to feel like the queen of a tomato paradise.
When they started getting big enough to eat, I would bring them in every few days and serve them, plain with just salt and pepper, because adding anything else would detract from their magnificent taste. And outside, just like they had good sense, the plants continued to burst with growth and more tomatoes.
Then, disaster struck. In the form of a giant army of marauding slugs and their families.
Susy and I pulled out pounds of mushy, slimy tomatoes and hauled them to the yard waste container. Then we took the remaining ripe ones inside where Susy tried to watch the slime off with detergent. I kind of quit eating tomatoes that day. But I still entertained the hope that now the worst was over – that the plants were about to reveal their full potential.
Well, don’t wait for the drum roll. Within a few days of the slug raid and massacre, we discovered something even uglier going on. The tomatoes – red and green alike – were going Gothic. They were turning black. Inside and out. Ew-w.
“What in the world is ‘blight’?, I asked bewildered.
“It’s a fungus called Phytophthora infestans”, Judy said. “It’s the same blight that killed all the potatoes in Ireland and caused the Great Potato Famine.”
In Ireland, about 1845, ninety percent of the population were living solely on spuds. The average man ate 10 pounds of Irish potatoes per day. Combined with milk, potatoes supply almost all food elements required for a healthy diet. But when the blight destroyed the crops, one million people starved to death.
Oh, no. What have I done? I may be responsible for causing a Great Tomato Famine right here..
But then, – being as optimistic and resourceful as ever – it occurred to me. If it wasn’t for this – my very own blight – I, and possibly you, might not even be here.
If you’re a Ford, Gorman, or Fitzpatrick, for instance, we all have grandfathers who may have been starving together in Ireland during the Potato Famine which was caused by the very same blight as my own.
There was our predecessor Patrick Ford who was born in 1821 and emigrated to the United States when he was probably 25 years old. Michael Gorman 1828 – 1910, must have been about 18 years old when he got here. And Edward Fitzpatrick 1812 – 1896, would have been around 34 years old.
Now, think about this for a minute. The Potato Famine lasted from about 1845 – 1847. Passage by sea to the U.S. took 45 days or so during that 2 year period. The emigres were huddled together on the ships for days on end. Talk about 6 degrees of separation! Maybe they KNEW each other. Maybe they shared a crust of bread together. Maybe they jawed about all the children and grandchildren they would have in the New Land. That would be us, guys. Wow. That’s exciting. What a small and wonderful world.
I feel better already. Even if I did have to give all my nice Irish tomatoes a decent burial today. I know now that they gave their lives for a greater purpose.
So I could see the blight at the end of the tunnel.