…and I had a pretty good time during that.

I love tomatoes.

Particularly the kind you find in baskets in little shacks along the country highway…

I was born in a very small hospital  in a very small town in Arkansas in 1979. The same very small town in which both my mother and grandmother were also born. I have no recollection of living there as the maternal side of my family had all relocated to a not quite equally small town in southern Louisiana dozens of years before, my mother’s marriage and my birth being part of but a brief sojourn to her father’s.

As history tells it, the women in my family have a knack for leaving their spouses in the razorback state.

Keeping with tradition, we left that very small town just before my first birthday-  the fact that my father would follow and I would welcome a baby sister seven days before my second is part of an entirely different tale. That first year, however, provided easily exaggerated stories full of baby-raising etiquette in the country that continue to be told across a dinner plate to this day.

One of my favorites revolves around a toddler me (insert your ahhhhs here) monkeying my way up to the shelf high above the sink, found, naked as toddlers are wont to be, only after consuming half of the crate of freshly picked tomatoes stored there.

And although we no longer considered ourselves “Arkansans”, we headed back to that very small town every Easter, Thanksgiving, and summer to visit with my grandfather and great-grandmother still living there. This, of course, being of the time that seat belts were more of a personal preference than a required by law accessory, my mother would simply toss a babycrib matress, a couple of pillows, and a blanket in the backseat of the car, and my sisters and I would would sleep the eight hours of country highway there.

We’d always return with a trunkload of tomatoes- this, of course, being of the time of really big trunks. They’d last two days. Tops.

When I was seventeen, I took the trip with my Granny for her fiftieth high school reunion. The tape player sang in the voices of Randy Travis and The Big Bopper for ten solid hours. (It seems that no matter how many times one travels the same path, there’s always the chance of a wrong turn ahead. Especially in a town that smells like a paper mill.) We were still talking about the incongruity of taking that wrong turn two days later, when we realized that we forgot to pickup tomatoes. We stopped at the first roadside shack filled with baskets.

It had a sign that said, “There are some bags under the counter. Please put money in the jar. Thank you.”

I was six weeks pregnant when I took my new husband to meet my family for the first time in that very small town. He drove a fast little sports car and took the liberty of printing out directions beforehand. It took us six and a half hours, and I recognized not a single landmark on the way. On the return trip, I forced him to watch in horror as I simply used my pant leg to wipe away the garden dust from tomato after tomato and devoured them like apples, all the while insisting that we take the familiar way home because I didn’t know where to find the farm shacks along the new route.

When we moved to Arkansas in 2004, and I found myself in a small town with no friends, no Starbucks, and not even a Walmart within 30 miles, I consoled myself with the thought that a country highway was but a stone’s throw away. And where there’s a country highway in Arkansas, there are bound to be farm shacks with fresh tomatoes.

And I love tomatoes.

Particularly the kind you find in baskets in little shacks along the country highway…

Of course, as things go in my life, I’m terribly allergic to them.(Didn’t see that one coming? First time here, eh?)

The crate of tomatoes high above the kitchen sink? They were stored there to keep me out- to avoid the burn marks the juice would cause on my little toddler mouth and chin- the same burn marks which make the childhood story interesting enough for the repeat dinner performance. My new husband’s look of horror? Was nothing compared to the look on his face once I started to swell, I assure you.

Now, after a thirty year battle, I’ve managed to bully this allergy into an occasional reaction to something completely random… like every thirteenth pizza, such as the one I ate two days ago.

My lips currently look as if I have the plague and burn as if the fires have hell have taken up permanent residence on my face. I can’t wear lipstick and found myself desperately wishing that my bangs were long enough to cover my entire face when I was out running errands today…

And still I crave tomatoes.

No doubt, I always will.

June 17, 2009
Categories: Daily, I Heart Demerol, Only Judith

1.©2009 by Courtney Hebert as Judith Shakespeare.
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