I recall coming across a plant growing in a dumping ground. When I was in grade seven, one of our science projects had been germinating tomatoes. I was astounded a year later to recognize the same jaggedy leaves growing from the soil of what was essentially a dump.
It wasn’t really a dump as the area where the plant was, was generally used as extra parking for a nearby school, Batoche Ave School in CFB Kingston, but it bordered on a gully where all sorts of interesting crap had been tossed over the years…interesting to a 12 year old boy anyway.
I pondered the plant to be certain my recognition was correct and I remained certain. I wondered how it might have gotten there, doubting very much that someone deliberately planted it. Who plants vegetables in a dump, and who plants just one plant? More likely it started as a seed in someone’s kitchen waste or was dropped by a bird after feeding on someone’s kitchen waste. Regardless, the tomato was growing in a very odd location.
I thought about digging it out and taking it home to our garden. But then I thought ‘who wants to eat a tomato born in a dump?’
Finally, I decided to just leave it where it was and see what would happen to it.
Laying in my bed that night I thought about that tomato plant and what sort of fruit it would bear, considering the environment it was feeding on. I pictured cutting a tomato open and it being full of worms; blind worms writhing, and gnashing sharp teeth at the sky. I don’t know why I pictured them being blind; who knows why twelve year old boys think most of the things they do?
Keep in mind, at the time I discovered the unexpected plant, it was nothing more than a seedling…still a long way away from bearing fruit.
I checked on my plant most days, often detouring on my paper route to see if it was still growing, half expecting it to get squished by a car, picked by another kid or eaten by a critter that might live in the dump; I had seen rats in a culvert pipe in the bottom of the gully. The tomato survived the summer.
I watched a small yellow bud turn into little green bulb. That green bulb continued to grow despite the hot summer sun, minimal rain, and total lack of shade. I never watered it, just watched it struggle to survive. I didn’t want to touch anything that was probably full of maggoty worms with gnashing teeth.
Finally the bulb began to look like a real tomato and then the day came when it showed a bit of orange in the green. I knew the plant wasn’t going to remain unnoticed by everyone forever and I did not want anyone else getting to check out my tomato. So I picked the fruit.
I remember being both excited and a bit grossed out carrying that thing home. I had watched it grow from a tiny plant into real food but it was full of worms and I didn’t want any of those against my skin.
I put the tomato, it was a bit smaller than my fist, onto our kitchen window ledge to let it ripen. I had often seen my mom do that. I don’t know why I wanted a junkyard tomato to ripen more…it’s that 12 year old kid thing again.
After a little more time, days or weeks, I no longer remember, but then it was all red. It was fully ripe. I took it out on the back step with a paring knife. It was time to free the worms.
When I sliced it open I stepped back not knowing if the worms would pop out and suddenly attack me, but I was not taking any chances.
Inside was just tomato. The same as any tomato you buy at the store. Juice, seeds, fleshy pulp; no writhing blind worms gnashing sharp teeth at the sky. How could a tomato grown in dump soil be so ordinary?
I have thought about that tomato many times over the years between then and now. For me it has become a bit of a metaphor for growing up a military brat. We didn't always have the best of environments or the most attentive care, but we still grew up, able to build good lives for ourselves. This isn't to say we all turned out the same, but we were resilient enough to get us to this point in our lives.
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