Jim Austin's Vermonter at Large
Jim Austin
Jim Austin
is a freelance writer from Putney, Vermont.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 08.13.02


Tomato surprise

You know how Anthony felt about Cleopatra? How PETA feels about fuzzy bunnies? Or Don Quixote felt about Dulcinea?

That's how Ruth, my jewel of loveliness, feels about her tomatoes.

She even has nicknames for them. She refers to them as her "maties." I know this sounds like she's a few bees short of a swarm but nevertheless Ruth's tomatoes are not just food around here. They are sacred orbs of holiness.

Yesterday at around 6:30 a.m. I staggered out of the bedroom and made my way to the truck for my daily trip to the end of our drive to pick up the paper. I was unmindful of the location of three large pots of tomatoes that were in residence very close to the driveway.

Pots of tomatoes are everywhere on our property. They are treated much like the cows in India. They go where they want and they are not to be interfered with. I must admit that I began backing up without checking in the rearview properly. I nudged one of the pots.

I froze.

Due to the slanted aspect of the terrain, the vines heavy with fruit and the miniscule square footage of the pots, three of them toppled over.

You know how you feel when you are in a submarine that has lost power and you are sinking below the pressure rating for the hull?

That is exactly how I felt. My guts turned to ice water while sweat globules the size of grapes broke out on my forehead. Three plants down and Ruth is a scant twenty yards away sitting in our living room reading a seed catalogue.

Maybe, just maybe, I can save myself.

I leapt from the truck and ran to the scene. I stifled a screech of horror. Three bushy tomato plants, two cherry and one Corona something or other were down. Coronas, incidentally, are medium-sized and all wrinkly like your grandma's face when her dentures are in the glass by the bed.

Tragically all three plants were intertwined. If I could only right them I might get away with it.

On my first try the air was filled with the sound of cherry and granny tomatoes thumping to earth. "Jeez, I am so screwed."

The &%$XX# things wouldn't cooperate. I couldn't hold the bushes upright and reposition the pots to the level. I was making things worse. Finally I laid them down and called out to the Mistress of Discipline.

"Ruth darling sweetie come quick, the maties fell over."

I tried to adopt an expression similar to the four-year-old girl in "Signs." Maybe she wouldn't beat me with her garden weasel if I were cute enough.

"Omigod" squawked darling sweetie, at a volume that would have drowned out several supersonic jets. Then, "I was worried this might happen"

Hello, what's that? Worried? Could this be a hole in the fabric of this disaster where a certain weasel could escape?

"Um yeah," I said, "They sort of tipped over." I said this while digging my toe in the dirt. She all but ignored my disarming sweetness.

Between the two of us we go them on their feet and dealt with the casualties that were littered around the pots.

It's an hour later and I'm putting it all on paper. Of one thing I am certain. I'll never get away with it. Whether it be a spy satellite or nosy neighbor or the telepathic communications between Ruth and her maties, I know that I'll be dobbed in. There is no hope but to throw myself on the mercy of the court and take whatever retribution she deems suitable. Crucifixion seems likely.

My fear is that the correlation between cherry tomatoes and certain parts of my own anatomy will be a factor in my punishment. I have 911 on the speed dial and all my affairs are in order so here goes.

"Ruth, it was I who knocked over your tomatoes. I'm really sorry and not a little afraid. Please be gentle."

If you wish to contact me I'll be at Brattleboro Memorial ICU eating Jello through a tube in my nose. Send flowers, no tomatoes please.