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Who’s the Tomato Queen?

June declared that her mother is the Queen of Tomatoes. I really don’t like to argue with friends, but June didn’t know my mother when she and Dad grew a huge vegetable garden.
Mom served tomatoes every meal. Sliced, with eggs and bacon for breakfast, on a BLT sandwich for lunch, and chopped in coleslaw or quartered for supper.
Mom canned tomato juice, whole tomatoes, and tomato soup with vegetables. No tomato – not even a green one – went to waste. At the end of the growing season, green tomatoes were sliced, coated with cornmeal and fried. Fried green tomatoes. Delicious. And if there were too many green tomatoes to fry before the first killing frost in the fall, Mom picked them from the vines. Then she wrapped them, individually, in a torn piece of old newspaper and laid them in a single layer on a cardboard tray. The green tomatoes were stored, with hopes that they would ripen, in the darkest corner of the basement. The unused coal bin. And when those tomatoes turned light pink or red, she cooked them in spaghetti sauce or with Salisbury steak.
June said that her mother, Nell, buys home grown tomatoes from neighbors. “Searching for, talking about, and preserving tomatoes all loom large in my mom’s life each summer. She would never consider serving a meal of fresh summer vegetables and hot cornbread without luscious, fresh tomatoes.” Nell handles each tomato with special care. Wrapped in tissue paper. “Each Christmas she collects used tissue paper –all colors – and cuts perfect squares. She gently wraps all tomatoes, one by one, and places them on small trays and stores them on the floor under her bed.” There an air vent provides the perfect storage temperature. Nell’s tomatoes go straight from under her bed to the dinner table. (And all these years I thought my kitchen counter was the perfect storage place for ripe tomatoes.)
At the end of the season, Nell buys whatever tomatoes she can find. Red and green and all shades in between. She even travels fifty miles from her home in South Pittsburg to Pikeville to buy the best green tomatoes around. She wants to serve homegrown tomatoes as long as possible. It’s a sad moment when she announces, “These are the last of the home grown tomatoes.”
Nell’s goal is to serve tomatoes for her family’s Thanksgiving dinner. If she can keep them until November, that accomplishment comes with bragging rights. June said, “Although we are thankful for the turkey and fixings, we always talk about and wonder how long those tomatoes stayed under Mom’s bed. My mom truly is the Queen of Tomatoes.”
Does Nell’s wrapping each homegrown tomato in squares of Christmas tissue paper and sleeping with tomatoes under her bed trump my mother’s growing and canning and storing tomatoes? Maybe. How about this? June’s mother is the reigning Tomato Queen and my mother was the former queen.

Happy Birthday

I’ve never received so many birthday greetings. Or in so many different ways. More than six months ago, the government sent congratulations. An introductory paragraph stated, “Now that you are approaching …..” I stopped reading. I chose to not be reminded of the number that followed.
Every insurance company that offers Medicare A, B, C, D, and XYZ supplement programs mailed good wishes, or condolences, depending on my attitude the day I opened the mail. And then their representatives called. In their friendliest and most caring voices, each offered to stop by for a short visit, at my convenience, to discuss health care. I coined an official response “I’ve made my decision about health insurance for the rest of my life. It’s signed, sealed, and delivered.” That ended our budding relationships.
Finally, the end of July rolled around, and my birthday, with its looming number, could no longer be ignored. And, to be honest, I like celebrating birthdays, mine and everyone else’s. Thanks to the post office, Mark Zuckerberg, Ray Tomlinson, and Alexander Graham Bell, good wishes arrived. In my mailbox, on Facebook, through email, and over the phone.
A really good friend, mailed a card that read, “I know it’s your birthday, but I’ve forgotten your age!” Bless her heart. Wish I could. A Facebook post that read, “Happy Birthday to a sweet young lady that I had at 4-H camp for many years,” took me back to bunk beds, horseback riding, and jumping off a high dive. And I liked the e-card with the dancing bear that sang, “Each year is just a number. Count the friendships you hold in your heart.”
I got birthday wishes from my Grands. One-year-old Grand, 1300 miles away, giggled and kissed his computer screen. When I said, “Let’s pat a cake,” he clapped his hands. So I sat on my couch at my house, and he sat on his daddy’s lap at his house, and together we patted and rolled and threw tiny imaginary cakes. As we said good-bye, I caught all my Grand’s birthday waves and kisses. Thanks goodness for video chats.
After eating birthday cake at my Grands’ house that’s across town, my seven-year-old Grand announced, “Gran, we have a surprise for you.”
“It’s outside. Don’t come out yet,” his younger sister  said. My Grands ran back and forth from the outside picnic table to inside their house. They rummaged through their school supplies. “Don’t let Gran come outside!” they screamed.
Finally, I was invited to unveil the surprise. Two bath towels covered the picnic table and my present. Garden stepping stones. One made by, or for, each Grand. With handprints, names and ages. And decorated, kid-style, with colorful stones. Treasured gifts! “Look up, Gran! There’s your card.” A blue paper waved from a tree. Four-inch tall green letters had been scribbled from one side of the paper to the other, “Happy Birthday, Gran!” No numbers. No reminder of age. No “Now that you are approaching……” Just a piece of construction paper taped to a tree limb. A keepsake birthday card.