A backyard vegetable garden is a thing to behold! Fluttering in the breeze, its growing leaves coloring the ground in shades of green and purple, red, yellow and orange. It is promise of tastes to come — a thing of growing hope.
A winter garden is quiet, sedate. It is like a sedentary grown-up, compared to those raucous springsters that nearly jump up and down, shouting, Look at me. Look at me! A winter garden lumbers along slowly. It gives your mouth time to think long and hard in anticipation of its flavors.
That’s how it was for me as I watched one spectacular tomato on its vine. He was a beauty! We called him Mr. Tomato. We anthropomorphized “him” and in return, he delighted our imagination. We took pictures of him. Daily, we checked on his well-being. We delighted when his apple-green skin showed its first small blush of red.
Mr. Tomato was often the topic of conversation. He was our backyard star and we were his devoted fans. We thought he might be ready for Christmas salad, but he stubbornly held to that green coat, only giving us a glimpse of the glory to come. Then we thought he would help us ring in the New Year like a red bell atop a winter vegetable plate of broccoli, cauliflower and zucchini wedges. Again, Mr. Tomato made us wait.
At last, when the holidays were over and all the hoopla was forgotten, Mr. Tomato quietly slipped on a vibrant red coat and signaled he would be ready for picking the following morning. Hooray! Mr. Tomato would be on the breakfast menu as the pièce de résistance atop our morning omelets.
Except for one little detail, everything was set and perfect for the very first yield of our winter garden. And that teeny, tiny, little detail? Wilson the Labradoodle.
Some time during the night, Wilson must have heard Mr. Tomato singing as he slipped on his vibrant red coat in preparation for his breakfast debut. Wilson must have heard Mr. Tomato’s shuffling into position as he readied himself for my hand to gently slide across his shoulders and … pluck! … him from the vine to which he was attached. Wilson must have known that Mr. Tomato was ripe and delicious and succulent.
Why else, then, would Wilson sneak out in the middle of the night and EAT THE FACE OFF OF MR. TOMATO?
Sure … there are more tomatoes on the plant. Smaller, less noble, perhaps, but nonetheless, soldiering on after witnessing first-hand that fatal midnight bite to the face of their good leader.
Dan and I have been quiet since that horrible discovery of poor Mr. Tomato, lying on his side, bled of vital juices. And, of course, Wilson gave us the perfect Bart Simpson defense of, “I didn’t do it … Nobody saw me do it … You can’t prove a thing!” What can we say?
Now we’re watching other garden stars just beginning to offer that sense of wonder for their promise. Broccoli and cauliflower. Brussels sprouts. Parsley so big it could serve for a year.
While we wait for those new miracles that will help remove us from the disappointment surrounding Mr. Tomato, we decided to stay busy. It helps. We spent Friday afternoon unwinding the house from its Christmas decorations. We carefully packed away all the ornaments and garlands and candles and red silk poinsettia plants that always serve to make us feel Christmasy and festive.
Dan loaded up the boxes and took them out for storing on top of the garage shelves. A short time later, he came flying into the house … holding his arm, dramatically shaking, all the color drained from his face.
A quick trip to urgent care confirmed that Dan had broken his arm (the distal radius). One temporary cast later, along with repeated admonitions for him to forever hence stay off ladders, we drove home in a quiet mood.
Dan was hurting and all I could think was … his arm would have been much stronger if he could have eaten that bone-building character, Mr. Tomato, fresh from the garden and — except for his missing face — the best looking tomato I’ve ever known.