Thursday, November 3, 2022

Blame it on the Tomato


Dear Boss,

Please let me explain why I don’t have a column today although I have struggled mightily to produce one.

I blame it on the tomato. Yes, one tomato, and it had a blister on it bigger than a half dollar. (Remember those?)

This was no ordinary tomato, either, but an heirloom variety given to me by a friend when it was just a sproutling. Anticipating its yield had my mouth watering for months. Pretty much the only thing that did water around here, in fact.

Because the blister drew my attention to the plant’s foliage, turning brown and yellow before my eyes. And that led me—you know how these things go—to examine the irrigation.


Irrigation Man arrived and gave the bad news. The problem was our well. Apparently, irrigation needs constant water pressure and our well couldn’t provide it.

There are technical words to describe the problem, but I only know four: call the Well Man.

He came, with his big truck and his machinery and he pulled our well.

Nervous hours followed. This well had been going strong in 1985 when we arrived. Had it outlived its time? But no, it was the pump, the Well Man said, and he replaced it.

That evening, with the temp on the porch at ninety-two, Rosie began acting strange. She resisted her usual plunge out the door into the yard and, instead, tiptoed to the steps and sniffed, watchfully. I followed with a flashlight. “It’s okay,” I said, sweeping the yard with the beam. But it wasn’t. She had smelled the copperhead before I saw it.

Next day on the way back from visiting a friend in Sugar Land, the low tire light came on. We were somewhere out on the prairie along 529. Next morning that tire was rim flat. The Toyota dealer took care of it in only two and a half hours.

On Monday, an agent accepted the book manuscript I’ve been working on for just over a year. That’s the one about Leon Hale and me—half fiction, half memoir.

She liked it. And to help her sell it to publishers, she asked me to create a table of contents describing what happens in each chapter.

There are forty-six chapters in this book, Boss, each one crammed with feelings. A daunting task.

So you see how it is, Boss, and I didn’t even mention the $5.10 gas or the Toyota dealer’s empty lot and showroom. Or the fire ants in my cupboard and kitchen sink.

Or the constant heat all month, until last night’s rain.

But the rain may be the biggest reason of all why I haven’t written a column this time.

It reminded me of Leon Hale’s Madame Z, the Brazos Bottom fortune teller. How, when the summer temp started to climb, Madame would pack up and head north.

I’m about to do the same.

I haven’t made up my mind yet for sure, but I’m leaning toward a trip by car to Connecticut, where my grandchildren live. A slow trip, watching how everything changes, gradually, in a rhythm and with a speed that feels human size.

An old dog and driver (me) looking at the reality of America today.

It will take an extra twelve days, if all goes well, but I’m hoping to learn something useful, something important on the way—other than the high price of gasoline everywhere. Maybe I’ll see what we Americans share in a good way, because I know it still exists.

I’m sure to be able to write a column about that, Boss.

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