Her grandfather's gruff manner was tough to take, but a giant tomato softened him up.
- Posted on Dec 18, 2013
Everything’s bigger in Texas, right? But the giant Beefmaster tomato that appeared in my garden one summer day was like nothing I’d ever seen before. It was a real beauty–red, without a blemish. It bent the vine to the ground.
How had I missed it earlier? I checked my garden at least twice a day. This behemoth had seemingly appeared overnight.
I plucked my prize and brought it inside to weigh it. Two pounds! My mouth watered. I thought of making salsa or jam, or simply slicing it, with salt...
Suddenly, a thought took hold of me and wouldn’t let go. Give the tomato to Grandpa.
What? That seemed like a bad idea. Grandpa lived on a farm just a few miles away, but I hadn’t seen him since Grandma’s funeral. And for good reason. At the service more than one person commented, “That woman was a saint for putting up with him all those years.”
The dirt had barely settled on the coffin when he groused, “When are we eating? Ma’s buried, let’s get on with it.” He was offensive and insensitive. You never knew what would come out of his mouth, but you knew you wouldn’t like it.
I’d figured that out when I was a kid. The farm was paradise–100 acres of cornfields, cattle and, best of all, a huge vegetable garden. Grandma always greeted me at the door. “C’mon over here and let’s make some cookies,” she’d say, gently taking my hand and leading me to the kitchen.
We baked, hung laundry and cooked. Grandpa? He stayed out back, working the land. I knew, even then, that farming was incredibly demanding, and watching him fostered my own love of gardening. Still, I longed for a hello, a wink, a “thanks for coming.” Something. Then one day, I got it.
“How much was that?” he said with a scowl, pointing to my new car. “What do you need a brand-new vehicle for? Plenty of used ones out there!”
“Just ignore him, he doesn’t mean any harm,” Grandma said.
But his remarks hurt. Didn’t he even want to know me? I was his granddaughter, for crying out loud!
I only visited in order to stay close to Grandma. Now that she was gone there was no reason to go out there. It certainly didn’t matter to Grandpa. So why was I standing in my kitchen with an incredible urge to give him this amazing tomato? It didn’t make sense.
And yet I couldn’t bring myself to slice into it. I tried but I just couldn’t do it. I was so frustrated that I finally surrendered. I took the tomato, got in my car and drove to Grandpa’s farm.
When I arrived, Grandpa was on his four-wheeler, riding in from the fields. Under his hat his face was a weathered mask carved by the elements and by years of working in the Texas heat, but at 84, he was showing no signs of slowing down.
Must be that nasty temper of his that keeps him going, I thought. I got out of my car and stood there in the scorching summer sun, waiting for him to acknowledge my presence.
“What are you doing here?” he finally asked, cutting the engine. So much for a hello.
“Hi, Grandpa,” I said, trying to sound cheerful, or at least civil. “I just stopped by to see how you’ve been doing.”
“Well,” he said, stepping down from the four-wheeler, “now that Ma’s gone, I have to do all the cooking and cleaning. And I think someone has been stealing corn from the field...”
I wiped the sweat off my forehead and tried to tune out his complaining. I opened the passenger door and hauled out the tomato.
“Hey, Grandpa! Look at this guy!” I bragged, holding up my prized fruit.
He gave it a cursory glance and stared out into the fields. “So? I’ve got a whole garden full of those.”
“Of course,” I said, lowering the tomato to my side. “You grow great tomatoes.”
“I need to get to the cows. No time to visit,” he said.
He climbed back on the four-wheeler and sped off so quickly that gravel flew in every direction. I contemplated flinging my precious tomato after him.
Now it didn’t seem so impressive. More like a symbol of futility. I couldn’t wait to get rid of it. I ducked into Grandpa’s house, dropped the tomato on the counter and bolted. Maybe the old guy would eat it. Maybe not. I didn’t care. The next time I had a strange urge, I planned to ignore it.
A few days later, Grandpa’s number showed up on my caller ID. He’d never called me before. Never. I braced myself, thinking it would be horrible news from a friend or relative phoning from his house.
“Hello...” I said.
“How did you get that tomato so dang big? You use Miracle-Gro or somethin’?”
“That giant tomato you brought? How the dickens did you get it so big?” he asked. “I ain’t never grown one nowhere near that big and I’ve been growing tomatoes for seventy years!”
His voice was gruff, but for the first time I detected a hint of friendliness, like he was trying. And maybe a little lonely without Grandma. I knew how that felt.
“Well, I always put a lot of manure in my garden,” I explained, maybe a little smugly. “I don’t like to use any chemicals.”
“I ate on that tomato for days. And it was good. Real good.”
Was that a compliment?
“Next time,” he said, “call first, so we can go in the house and talk for a while, spend some time.”
I almost dropped the phone. “Okay, I will,” I promised.
And I did. I called Grandpa regularly after that and visited him often. He was still a tough old Texas farmer, but on the inside, his heart seemed to have grown overnight. Just like the largest tomato I’d ever seen.
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