Sunday, October 25, 2015

Fred and the Big Tomato

So I was slicing a fresh tomato the other day and I remembered this:

My brother Fred was the coolest guy God ever made.  He was as rogueish and mischievous and adventuresome as Tom Sawyer, good-looking, charming, and smart.

You always got the sense that his imagination was simmering just below the surface, and when all the boring people had their backs turned, he and a lucky sidekick or two would skate off and do something wild and fun and just bad enough to make your eyes get big if you ever found out.

Which you probably wouldn't.  At least I wouldn't, because I was the boring little sister who might tattle.

I heard hints of his escapades, a whiff of contraband in the barn joists above the milk house or sly explorations in the woods.

As the fascinated little sister, I wanted most of all to be noticed, to be drawn into that dazzling circle where furtive and funny and dangerous adventures happened, just out of sight.

But he almost never chose me.

Except one day he did.

I was probably eight or nine years old that summer.  One warm afternoon, unexpectedly, Fred sidled up to me and asked if I wanted to do something with him.

Yes! YesYesYes!!

"Shhhh. Don't tell Mom.  Just walk normal and go to the garden."

You betcha. We la-di-da-ed to the garden like we were going to fetch a few onions for Mom.

"Now," said Fred, "there's nothing as good as the juice from a ripe tomato on a hot day.  So let's each find the biggest one we can.  And make sure no one's looking."

I made sure.  Then, giggling, I poked around the tomato patch and found a huge, heavy, ripe, red tomato.

So did Fred.

"Let's hide," he said, and we crept into the corn rows and sat down with the tall green rustling stalks hiding us from the whole world.

"This is what you do," said Fred.  "You take one bite, and then you suck the juice out.  It's so good."

So that is what we did.  I sat with him under the arching green leaves of the corn and we grinned and held the tomatoes in both hands and sucked out the juice and it really was the best possible drink on a hot summer day. I felt like I was in the middle of the coolest conspiracy ever, doing something naughty and mysterious, but not naughty enough to worry about losing my salvation over, and I was In On Fred's Ideas, which was the best place to be.

We put the drained tomatoes where Mom wouldn't see them and la-di-da-ed back to the house.

I have never forgotten that feeling of crazy adventure.

But I realize a lot of things now that I didn't then.  Such as:
1. Fred was actually going through some very hard things during those years, and it was no wonder he found ways to escape, both in imagination and in reality.
2. He could have reacted to the abuse he suffered by taking me somewhere and doing horrible things, and I would have been a shockingly easy target.  But he didn't.
3. Mom had such an enormous garden, and so many hundreds of tomatoes, that she wouldn't have cared a bit about us finding a few to drink the juice out of on a hot summer day.

Fred still makes me feel like he is always up to something mysterious and exciting.


  1. Heartwarming - and heartbreaking.

  2. Your way with words is truly a God-given talent. I echo Jenny-O's comment.