“Plant’em in the spring, eat’em in the summer, all winter without’em’s a culinary bummer; I forget all about the sweatin’ and the diggin’, everytime I go out and pick me a big …
Any writer worth his salted tomato values interaction with the readers.
Good or bad, it doesn’t matter. When people respond to something you’ve written, it means they can relate. And that’s a good because newspapering is like an addiction … when you get an ounce of encouragement, or simple feedback, you want more.
It also pumps your ego just enough to keep you going for another day. And self-worth in the print media industry — seasoned, of course, with a heaping dash of humility — is something political naysayers and apostles of technology work to undermine at every turn.
Two weeks ago a precious lady — a proud grandmother whose self-declared “new word of the day” was “epic” — sent an email offering some encouragement toward these Sunday columns because they make her smile and, she added, because they rarely offer political views.
“[I] wish all the news made me smile, but sadly no,” she wrote.
Amen to that … and this is coming from a crotchety old newspaper guy who’s been swimming in ink for many — if not too many — years.
Call it divine intervention or fate or unfettered happenstance, but I believe there’s another reason this country lady contacted me … maybe two. One, we share the same state of birth: Mississippi. And two, we both have an appetite for tomato sandwiches.
“Respectfully, my fellow Mississippi friend: I always say I’m going to send you an email on how much I enjoy your articles in the Banner,” she offered as a way of introduction. “So, since I’m sitting here eating [what could be] the last homegrown tomato sandwich of this summer—”
She had me … first, at the mention of tomato sandwiches; second, at being from the Magnolia State.
Having migrated north with the family from the cotton, corn and soybean flatlands of my birthplace as an 11-year-old boy in 1966 to pursue better job opportunities for Dad in Shelby County, I’ve been a Tennessean ever since. But it doesn’t mean I don’t think about those childhood days when times were slower, kids were the summer kings of the bottomland, and life was day to day.
And tomato sandwiches were the mid-day meal of choice — sometimes the only choice — for hungry little country boys, and hungry little country girls, in and around Tippah County.
“It’s ironic — maybe even to the point of divine intervention — that you mention tomato sandwiches,” I responded in an email of my own. “That is actually going to be one of the next columns! I sat down at the kitchen table the other night after a late afternoon of mowing and indulged in two refreshing tomato sandwiches. It brought back memories of a day the same thing happened … in Falkner when I was a boy.”
That column appeared last Sunday.
“You blew my mind when you talked about the divine intervention,” she responded in the next email. “So, I’m thinking it was.”
She went on to explain she had “about 50 ‘maters” sitting on her kitchen counter.
“I’d love to give you and your wife some,” she wrote. “They are the most close thing to a Mississippi tomato that I can produce.”
On the next point we also agreed: Those tomatoes in the grocery store just can’t match the goodness of a homegrown and vine-ripened, big red one.
“Would you accept a few if I drop them off at the Banner?” she asked. “I have pastors and upstanding people that will vouch that I’m not going to poison you.”
Naturally, I accepted. No right-minded, southern male in his 60s is going to pass on that kind of offer.
To her word, she dropped them off at the front lobby the next day. Yet, as luck would have it, I was in the middle of a meeting and could not step out of the office. So, she left her gifts along with a card.
“I felt a tug in my heart to bring these to you,” the handwritten note read. “Again, thank you for your work. These tomatoes is the least I can do.”
She even listed the names of three references — one a pastor — any, or all, of whom would be happy to attest to the safety in eating the fresh produce.
Guilt-ridden that I could not escape the meeting in order to thank her — for the tomatoes and for reading our newspaper — I sent another email, apologizing for my errant ways but inviting her back.
“Next time you’re in the neighborhood, drop in again,” I offered. “Or, give me a call and say you’re on the way. I’ll shoo away whoever is in my office at the time … unless it’s the boss.”
In charming style befitting a lady of the South, she accepted the apology and even pointed out she “looked awful” that day anyway. Maybe. Maybe not. In my way of thinking, anyone bearing such gifts can look like Godzilla if the tomatoes are homegrown.
In one of the latter emails, I told her I likely would be writing a second column … a tomato sequel, if you will.
“… Don’t use my name, but you can say a nice Mississippi person brought you some tomatoes!” she replied.
Chuckling at her reserve, I assured my unseen friend her identity would be our secret.
“You make me laugh out loud! Literally!” she replied. “Now, I’m not going to interrupt you until the next EPIC … whatever!”
Fair enough. But, I do hope she drops in again. I’d love to take a few minutes and just chat … about the old days, about Mississippi, about growing up, about anything.
Any writer who doesn’t value his readers needs a rotten tomato in the face, with or without salt. If not for those who read, there would be little reason to write.
It doesn’t matter where we’re born, who we know, our measure of wealth or why we think the way we do. When there’s a shared love of life, or at least some little portion of life, it makes us kindred spirits.
And that’s good enough for me.
(About the writer: Rick Norton is an associate editor at the Cleveland Daily Banner. Email him at email@example.com.)
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