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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41 responses to “Does anybody really say “toMAHto?””

  1. My “garden” is a 4×4 raised bed. This year I decided to take a break from growing tomatoes for the squirrels to eat and have planted native butterfly and bee friendly wildflowers. Maybe I’ll grow food again next year.

    We did that one year and decided our garden looked like a patch of weeds. The insects did, however, love it! — JJ

  2. For years, we raised rabbits for food. The waste that collected under the cages we tilled into the garden. Wonderful stuff.

    As an incorrigible academic, I’ve always wondered about Ruth, but wouldn’t want to mess w/ the Day’s grandfamily.


  3. I’ve added cotton-seed hulls as a garden amendment several times. It is always funny to see the wisps of cotton drift up to the surface after a rain! Smaller gardens for me in the past few years since the incident with the knees. I planted only 22 tomato plants this year. Jet Star is the primary slicer and San Marzano is the one I’m growing for sauce. I have a few other varieties, but not as many as the years when I’d have 80-100 plants. The only other produce I’ll have is yellow squash and a very small patch of sweet corn (Peaches and Cream).

  4. When a former in-law’s grandfather downsized and sold off his house on a large lot, he kept the corner of the property that included his former compost heap and built a new, smaller home. Guess where he planted his garden 🙂 I heard that the okra was over 6 feet tall the first season and can vouch for the delicious tomatoes a few years later.

  5. My mom used to have horses and so she used horse manure that had weathered a few years on her garden. It’s full of weeds, but boy does the garden grow.

  6. Wow, a slice of tomato for a slice of bread! And was it tasty as well? Mmmmmm think of how that would be with bacon. YUM . OR grilled with butter and herbs. (ok it isn’t really grill when I do it, just cooked in oven) Did your mom have to put up a lot or were you able to eat it/ gift it all?

    The grandparents had a worm farm for a while. Castings / old dirt made super compost. And the chickens added their bit, too. When they first broke ground on the homestead in FLorida, the shack was something like 20×60 ft…..40 of that feet was for chicken house. Eggs, fresh chickens raised income while Pop was away. (Hmmm I think I’ve told that story before. Sorry. But it is a good one) Vegetable and flower gardens. And large blueberry patch and beehives later.

    Gee, I miss them. Even if they could outwork me any day of the week. 🙂

    But memories are good.

  7. I and a large chunk of my family (nuclear and extended) say to-mah-to. My wife doesn’t, and so far our children are going her way. I’ll recover eventually.

  8. As a tyke, I loved cold sliced tomatoes smothered in raw chopped onions with a vinegar dressing. In retrospect, I guess I didn’t really enjoy the red slices as much as I enjoyed snarfing up the delicious dressing and raw onions! Then, one year, our small crop tasted rotten to me – every one of ’em – and I haven’t enjoyed them since except in sauces, ketchup, and the like.
    I am, however, greatly impressed by the size of your family’s tomatoes, JJ.

  9. Too bad there’s no way to package the virtual manure that’s so freely available on the InterWebNet and use it for plant food.

    Not speaking of this blog, of course. Usually. 🙂

  10. Jimmy:

    Any chance that you will post the B&W photo of your mom in the tomato jungle? If you would rather not show your mom, do you have any photos of only the plants?

  11. I have used cotton burr compost for years. The stuff you get isn’t very hard but it does. Eventually she and tightens heavy soils. In South Louisiana we used bagasse.

    Someone can look that up.

  12. Brain still not all there. I keep saying Scotty beamed me up but the molecules scrambled and part of me got left on the planet.

  13. Friday I saw neurological diagnostics for what appeared to my oncologist as chemo induced neuropathy.

    They stuck needles all over my body with electrodes while Ghost told jokes about his frog on high school
    I pointed out frog was dead unlike me with needles in all . My .muscles.

    Short story, I have severe neuropathy caused by six. Multiple diseases or issues. Neurologist says according to his test results I cannot walk. He had hard time agreeing zi was.

    Hardly done waiting for more test results but no treatment and permanent

    My brain and sense of humor
    has returned. Since I’ve little feeling in fingers can’t type well. No comments on how long this took.

  14. I’m getting my lawns mowed for free now… because my son-in-law (and daughter and grandson) live in an apartment he now has moved his hobby from his mom’s house to mine. We now have 2 beehives in the back corner of our lot. We’ll also get some free honey along the way.

  15. I believe I have found a good physician. At least, he has no open appointments for more than six months!! I shall get to consult around Thanksgiving….

    My ophthalmologist is good, too, but he’s only 2+ months in arrears.

  16. I’m told that a Bemidji [or nearby] resident arr. at Mayo or a Twin Cities hospital for scheduled orthopedic surgery [probably new knee or hip] and the surgeon asked why they came there when they had Dr. Caron at Sanford Health in Bemidji.


  17. Nancy Kirk:

    I rarely check the comments anymore, but I began noticing a while ago that quite a few of the regulars were no longer coming around.

    It seems that the population is dropping, but I might be wrong.

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