Say what you will about my father, but the man knows how to grow a mean tomato. Every year, during what New Englanders can still quaintly call “harvest time”, that time when we race the calendar to make the most of what we have tended to all summer, the porch at my parents’ house fills with tomatoes of all shades, and any visit is the occasion for a goody bag of the juicy and misshapen fruit of the earth.
For a few days after receiving a portion of the harvest I fill up on pasta sauces, soups, roasted tomatoes and caprese salads. This weekend I finished the last tomato of the season, placing it on ciabatta with mozzarella and avocado for an indulgent and filling sandwich.
Tomatoes are consolation as the days turn shorter and my thoughts turn to “grieving over Goldengrove unleaving”. At times I think perhaps the melancholy won’t come on this year: as the past few years have found me falling deeply in love with the man I will marry in the spring, a man who makes me laugh during arguments and who likes spending time with my father, I have thought perhaps his presence would keep me from sadness.
Companionship may stave off gloom on the earliest weekends of autumn, but when the first frost descends and the days are noticeably shorter I succumb. This weekend we had to be apart, still a commuter couple with busy schedules, and I had the tomatoes all to myself.
As the skin of the last tomato gave way under my knife’s blade, my stomach turned over and an invisible cloud settled over my head and slumping shoulders. The tomatoes would soon be gone.
How many years do I have of trudging up the slate steps to the enclosed porch to see bounty spread across the picnic table? Of watching my father’s hands, shaped like mine, pick up each red orb and examine it before placing it in a plastic bag for me? What time have I wasted not being with the people I love? What will change between now and next year’s harvest?
This is the price I pay for being sensitive, for loving people, for looking out the window and being realistic about what I see. This sensitivity has dotted the timeline of my life. It is part of who I am, an indispensable trait as ingrained as my ambition and devotion.
Equally ingrained is my messiness, which causes the tomatoes to slide all over my sandwich when the time comes to remove it from the oven and place the two sides together. Avocado comes leaping out of the bread and I pop pieces in my mouth. I navigate each bite alone at the kitchen table, doing my best to keep the fixins between the slices. When things fall apart – and I knew they would, for how could they not, things being as they are, my sandwich so full and each tomato slice so slitheringly perfect – I let the juice run onto my hands as I savor this beautiful, transient mess.