The clods of red dirt busted easily below my bare feet as I set out across the field. I can still hear my Grandma Kitty calling saying “Boy get your shoes on before you step on something that you regret.”
As the sun just broke enough to make the dew glisten on the bright red tomatoes, it was easy to see that the there was hours of picking that was ahead of us that day.
Mother handed each of us a basket from the bed of the old Chevy pickup truck and we each started on a different row working to steal the ripened fruit from the vine before the bugs or birds could harm them.
Grandma Kitty, Mom, Dad, a couple of my aunts and cousins began hours of bending over, kneeling, and filling the bushel baskets.
As the sun rose over our heads the baskets filled the bed of the old truck, Grandma Kitty took the handkerchief from her pocket and wiped the perspiration from her brow and cheeks.
“Randy,” she called. “Bring that bucket of water.” Underneath a large towel in the bed of the truck was the bucket she had me draw from the well early that morning. It was so still so cold the outside of the bucket had water dripping from the side as I carried the bucket around to each of the pickers.
Each reached in, took out the dipper and soaked in the water as if it might be the last drink they would ever have.
My dad Floyd took off his straw hat and poured an entire ladle full over his head soaking his gray work shirt. Grandma Kitty took another dipper and soaked her handkerchief, and then she rolled it and placed it around her neck beneath the collar of her old blue dress.
As I looked up from the bucket, it seemed the rows of tomato plants stretched as far as the eye could imagine.
I walked back along the rows towards the truck trying not to spill the water before returning it to its stowage place.
As I reached up to scratch my face I noticed my hands carried the smell of the tomato vines and itched slightly, I picked up another empty bushel basket and back down the row I went.
As we worked mother began singing “Farther along we’ll know all about it.” Slowly each of us joined in as the voices rose up from across the field.
As the sun reached the top of the sky, we all made our way back to the truck where Grandma Kitty spread a red and white checked tablecloth over the hood of the truck. From a small wicker picnic basket, she pulled out a loaf of bread, a fresh jar of JFG mayonnaise, a sharp kitchen knife, and a salt and pepper shaker.
She walked to the back of the truck picked out the prettiest tomatoes from one of the baskets went back up and began slicing, spreading and handing out our lunch, tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches.
From a little cooler dad pulled out for each of us a bottle of pop, there was an assortment, grape, strawberry, orange, and an RC Cola.
We all pulled up a piece of ground, sat around, each telling little stories on one another, laughter seemed to overtake us as we looked at all the tomatoes on the truck. It sunk in for the ladies especially that the biggest part of the work was yet to come. Many of those tomatoes had to be canned but there was still work to do in the field before that task could begin.
As I sliced through a red-ripened garden-grown tomato to fill a plate to take to church last Sunday, my mind wondered back through those fields of my childhood, to that place where we once toiled, sang and laughed together. The work was hard and hot but because we worked together, it seemed so easy at the time. The shared experience made it something I wish I could reach back and do again, not for the sake of the work but for the fellowship that we shared while doing it, for the lessons learned, for the moments in time that will ever be within me.
Amazing how something such as slicing a tomato will bring one such joyous memories.
From Randall’s book “A Mountain Pearl.”
(Randall Franks is an award-winning musician, singer and actor. He is best known for his role as “Officer Randy Goode” on TV’s “In the Heat of the Night” now on WGN America. His latest CD release, “Mississippi Moon,” is by Crimson Records. He is a member of the Independent Country Music Hall of Fame. His latest book is “Encouragers I: Finding the Light.” He is a syndicated columnist for http://randallfranks.com/ and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)