Tomatoes are a perfect food. I will stand in my garden and eat cherry tomatoes directly off the vine until my mouth burns with the acidity. When we owned the inn and I needed to eat at the end of the dinner shift (meaning it was late and I was usually hot and tired), nine times out of ten it was some variation of a tomato and mozzarella salad that someone made for me. And I would have had it that 10th time too.
In my tomato memory we are living in Wisconsin, which we did, off and on, until I was 11 years old. The details of this story are my details, they are unverified and therefore likely to be wildly inaccurate. But that doesn’t change the memory and it’s solidity in my story of myself. I’m small in this memory and my parents are both there, meaning I have to have been under the age of eight. And since we moved to the UK for a year when I was seven, I have to be somewhere between the age of acquiring memory and seven years old. And not four or five, because we lived in the UK that year too. So, six, let’s say I’m six. I was missing at least one front tooth.
My parents have an allotment garden. This is a garden plot allocated to city dwellers, located just outside the city boundaries where they can grow and tend and harvest in ways that their city concrete squares don’t allow. This is my memory of this place. I remember that we visited regularly and we grew and dug and gardened there. I’m not 100% sure this wasn’t just a visit to a farmer’s market but, in this story of myself, we have this little plot of land that is all our own. Neighbors must have had nearby plots because my memory involves other children being with us this day.
We went to the allotment, a couple of adults and a pile of children – probably four or six of us – tossed into the back of my parent’s VW Camper. We tumbled like dry leaves around the garden plots, probably more in the way than of any actual help. Parents dug and weeded and told us what was ready for picking. The tomatoes were ready. I don’t recall actually picking any tomatoes, though I’m sure I would have been given a task like that.
The peak of this memory is the drive back into the city, on the bench seats in the back of the VW, surrounded by these other children and all of that day’s spoils in bags and boxes around me. I’m holding a fresh, warm tomato as big as my fist and biting into it the way anyone else would bite into an apple. The skin burst, the tomatoes seeds ran down my face. One parent or another looked over their shoulder and exclaimed, though not greatly upset, more with surprise. I smiled, other children looked at me skeptically, but I kept eating that warm summer tomato, making a mess, absorbing their looks and their teasing, secure in my happiness at this perfect food in my fist.