Does anybody really say “toMAHto?”

I’m going to take a break from the art-school narrative to share a memory. I’m planting my spring garden this weekend. That always makes me think of Momma and Daddy. Gardening in the warm months was what my parents did for fun, and by “gardening” I mean “vegetable gardening.” To them, there was no other kind. Usually, Daddy would till up a not insignificant patch next to their suburban ranch house and plant the staples—tomatoes, squash, peppers—as well as the odd experiment, as in the year they grew some beautiful cabbage. There was one year in particular that was different. My father worked in a cotton mill, and one hot summer he brought home a pick-up truck load of “motes,” as in the biblical speck of dust. However, at the mill it was a word for the husk and debris that was “carded,” or combed, from raw cotton. Essentially waste, it accumulated by the ton. Daddy dumped his truckload of motes right in the middle of the backyard and contained it with a short circular enclosure of concrete reinforcing wire. This unsightly pile sat sweltering and festering and rotting through the better part of a year. The next spring, my father and mother planted their tomatoes in the remaining compost. I was grown and working as a young newspaper reporter that year, and on a visit home I recorded the results with my camera. I have black and white photos of my mother, who wasn’t a short woman, in the midst of a jungle of tomato plants higher than her head, hoisting tomatoes the size of small cantaloupes. They produced cross sections larger than a slice of loaf bread. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since.
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