Just before my ninth birthday, we moved to Florence, Arizona. Smack dab in the Sonoran Desert, temperatures in the summer soar to the upper 100 teens, and only the hardiest of plants thrive in this environment. I took up the hoe when we moved into that old house with the huge yard. In May, it’s already over 100 degrees, but I planted a solitary tomato seed underneath our ornamental orange tree.
For what seemed an eternity, I watered that spot daily. After a week, a tiny sprout took hold. Excited, I babied that plant. Fretted over it. Asked Dad for advice. It grew slowly, but it didn’t thrive. After a month however, a tiny flower emerged. After a few days, a tiny tomato issued forth. I fussed over it, waited, watered. I couldn’t wait to taste the fruit of my labor.
As the tomato ripened, it was the size of a tangerine. When it turned red, I plucked it. Mom was cooking dinner when I burst into the kitchen with my long-awaited prize.
“Mom, look what I picked!” I shouted.
She glanced down at me, smiling at my small fruit.
As I cut it open, laid it out on a plate, salted and shared it with her, she offered some sage advice.
“Now you should see more tomatoes, if you keep taking such good care of that plant,” she said, affectionately rubbing the top of my head.
“Really?” I was confused. “It will grow more?”
“Yes,” she said patiently as she stirred the noodles on the stove. “Once the first crop is in…”
I didn’t hear the rest. Dashing outside again, I retrieved the plant from the yard debris pile. It was already wilting. Digging the hole where it had been, I replanted it. Watered it profusely. Sat back and watched it wilt futher.
Walking back into the kitchen, Mom noticed my dejected state.
“What’s wrong, Patrick?”
I didn’t say anything at first, trying to digest this first lesson in farming.
“Well,” I started. “Why do they call it a ‘tomato’ plant, if it gives more than one tomato? Shouldn’t it be called a ‘tomatoes’ plant?”
I’m sure it took great effort for her not to burst out laughing as she realized what I had done. She did chuckle a bit, as she turned to face me. She noticed the dirt on my jeans and shirt.
“Are you telling me you pulled up the plant because it gave you one tomato?”
I was embarrassed. Stunned by my stupidity.
“Yes, I did,” I asnwered sheepishly.
“It’s okay,” she reassured me. “You’ll know better next time.”
My father burst a seam laughing when he came home that evening and heard the story. Mom was gentle with me then, but she never let me live it down as I grew into an adult. And to this day, Dad and my brothers are amused to learn I still love to grow tomatoes.
“Gee,” Bill said to me one day, “if you have 10 plants this year, will you harvest 10 tomatoes?”
I should petition Merriam to change its name. If it grows more than one tomato, I believe it should be called a ‘tomatoes’ plant.