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Monday, 15 September 2014

Tomatoes for Victory

By Trudi Kappel

In 1939, my urban-raised parents moved from New York City to a small rural village in upstate New York. My Dad’s business did well. In the summer of 1941, they moved into their newly built and as yet un-landscaped house with their young son and unborn daughter.

The United States entered World War II in December. The following spring nearly everyone in the village planted a Victory Garden to help with the war effort. Most residents started helping in the garden when they were toddlers.

Neither of my parents had ever planted so much as a radish seed. However, not wishing to be seen as unpatriotic and having a large open yard, they decided to plant a vegetable patch.

They hired a farmer to plow a garden space and opened the Montgomery Ward catalog to order supplies. Along with a variety of vegetable seeds, they ordered tomato seedlings. Dad particularly liked tomatoes. They ordered 100 seedlings.*

When the order arrived, the seedlings were, in Dad’s words, “a dried up whisk broom.” Confident that these twigs were dead, they bought twenty-four tomato plants from a local greenhouse.

After they planted everything, they looked at the tomato whisk broom, looked at their bare yard - what did they have to lose? They planted the 100 twigs. Every twig came to life.

The summer rains and sunshine were perfect for vegetable gardens that summer of 1942. In the fertile native soil, gardens thrived. My parents harvested tomatoes. Then they harvested more tomatoes! And more tomatoes.

They tried giving some of them away but had little success since our neighbors also had bumper crops. My Mom learned how to can and canned tomatoes. We ate those canned tomatoes for several years. It was a tomato tsunami and an educational experience.

Postscript: In the autumn, one of our neighbors coaxed my mother to enter a jar of her tomatoes into the local agriculture fair canning competition.

Mom was reluctant since this was her first venture in canning and her competitors had years of experience. She was assured that the fair organizers liked to have many entries and there was no shame in not winning a ribbon. To the chagrin of the experts, she captured first prize.

*I have told this story many times. At the place in the story where the “*” appears, it becomes obvious who among my listeners has gardened and who has not. The gardeners are splitting their sides laughing while the non-gardeners see nothing at all amusing about 100 tomato plants.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


What a well-written story about your "tomato tsunami."

My family all had black thumbs during THE WAR, and would have welcomed some of your bounty!

I think we harvested a wrinkled carrot and a couple radishes.

Nonetheless, your story brings back many fond memories of that awful time.

You are right! I was laughing and it's because I understand. Awesome stories.

I think there's a moral there somewhere. I'm not going to give up what I'm doing - whatsoever I may think of it.
Some tomatoes and a first prize may yet come out of it!

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