Tomato Love

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They’re called ‘love apples’

I am lying on a bunk bed in the middle of the day when I hear my name over the intercom. The speakers are everywhere – in the middle of the girl’s camp on the hill. Down in the hollow where the boy’s cabins are clustered. At the swimming pool. Even out the dirt road leading to the barn where the horses are standing with their heads down, resting in the heat.

“Jayne Morgan, report to the Mess Hall.”

I loved every minute of being a ‘counselor-in-training’ – grooming the horses, saddling them and bridling them for the riders,  mucking out stalls, leading the campers in cleaning the cabin and the wash house, gathering my young charges at the end of a full day and marching down to dinner, all the while belting out the Motown hit, “War, huh, good God y’all, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing! Say it again!”

I hadn’t gotten in trouble for that yet. Or for the many other things that I did that summer without realizing they were controversial.

I’d been coming to camp for years, loving the beauty and wildness of the place. I’d learned archery and canoeing and gotten my lifeguard certification. I’d lain on an old mattress smelling of mildew while a college boy wrapped his arms around me and helped me aim a rifle at a paper target. I’d made more lanyards than any human being could possible use in a lifetime. Days were a blur of activity and nights were spent singing around campfires and sneaking through the darkness to wrap one of the boy’s cabin in toilet paper. It was the first place I went away to by myself and though I dutifully wrote letters home, I never experienced a moment of homesickness..

I felt so adult, working a full day and being responsible for the safety and well being of a dozen small girls in Arapaho cabin.

But now my free hour was interrupted by a summons to the Mess Hall. The assistant camp director met me on the porch and pointed toward the parking lot.

My mom was standing by our white Olds Cutlass . She waved.

At 15, I hadn’t known the loss any family members. It would be another year before four of my friends where badly injured in a car that I was supposed to be riding in. (My mother, angry at me for not completing my chores, wouldn’t let me go with them) I didn’t yet know that surprises could be anything but wonderful, or at least interesting. So her unexpected appearance was odd, but not alarming

I went to see what she wanted.

I don’t remember our greeting or the conversation, but I’m sure she grilled me on what I was doing, did I like my Senior Counselor, did I need clean clothes and I answered  her in shrugs and monosyllables. It was what she did next that I still find remarkable.

She reached in the window and pulled out a paper bag containing a dozen of her homegrown tomatoes, still warm from the car. We sat on the hood and ate the red fruit like apples, juice running down our chins. Just she and I. Licking the juice off our fingers and then eating another. As if it was something we did everyday. We ate tomatoes until we were stuffed.

A half hour later, I stood on the gravel and watched her drive away, wondering, “why did my mother drive all the way from Knoxville with a bag of tomatoes?” Parents didn’t just show up at camp in the middle of the week unless they’d been called to take a kid home due to illness or misbehavior. It made no sense to me.

That night, after lights out in the cabin as I lay in my bunk, the truth hit me. My mother missed me.  In the middle of her day, perhaps while out in her garden, she had felt the need to see me. To share with me what she had grown with her own hands. She got in the car and drove, never questioning this need. Or the offering she brought.

It’s such a small, sweet memory, but it matters. In later years, when her darkness engulfed us all, I would remember that moment. Sitting with her and eating tomatoes. It would be a touchstone, a reminder that, no matter how crazy things got, she loved me. Missed me when I was gone. That memory got me through and helped me find our connection again.

I miss her now. Every time I pluck a tomato off the bush and bite into it right there, I remember.

So here’s to mid-summer sweetness, the hot flesh of a homegrown tomato. To the hard, sometimes crazy-making task of being a mother, the vulnerability of daughters, to the gardeners and their harvest – the memories that allow us to transcend the pain and find new hope.












I like people. Really, I do. But I’m an introvert. And that means I prefer dealing with people one on one. Or in small, intimate groups where the conversation can be inclusive and deep.

Sometimes people are surprised by this. “But you’re so good with people!” they’ll say. They’re right, I am good with people. The same way a lion tamer is good with big cats or a border collie is good with sheep. Like people are some foreign species I have to control.

Parties drive me crazy. I don’t know how to get beyond the meaningless discussion of ‘what are you up to these days?’ to the more interesting questions of ‘who are you, underneath your mask?’ and ‘what do you really care about?” Intellectually, I know that small talk is the social grease that smooths our way through awkward moments. I’m just lousy at it. I’ll panic at a silence and throw in an odd and inappropriate comment like, “did you know the Mafia used to rub garlic on their bullets to make their enemies bleed out faster?”

I read that somewhere. It’s an interesting tidbit. But maybe shouldn’t be one of the first things out of your mouth at a social gathering. Unless it’s a Mafia reunion.

I’m fine throwing a party because I have things to do. Someone to be. And I’m fine, more than fine really, being on stage in front of hundreds of people. Because that audience becomes one person to me and guess who’s in charge? Me! And I get the delicious thrill of sharing something truthful with them. It’s a source of joy.

But a cocktail party. Ack! I run screaming. I feel the need for a chair and a whip.

I have a ritual I go through before any social event. I’m dressed and ready to go….usually way too early. I’m killing time before I hop in the car and a little voice in my head says, “You don’t have to go.”

But I want to, I think. I like these people! It will be fun!

“But you could stay home and read. Or write that scene that’s been floating around in the back of your head. You could get dressed in something more comfortable and make pancakes.”

But I should go, I think. I should spend time with people I like. Get out of the house. Practice talking like an adult.

My mind keeps tempting me with all the other cool things I could do alone. Soak in a nice  hot bath. Organize my closet. Read the newspaper cover to cover. Start learning to speak Spanish. Play with the pups.

Sometimes my introvert wins and I call in sick. Other times I grit my teeth and go and….usually have a good time. Almost as good a time as I would have rolling on the floor with the pups.

I have some coping strategies when I remember to use them. Focusing on the breath helps. Turning into a reporter and interviewing other people is a good strategy to keep the conversation going. Alcohol was my social lubricant of choice when I was younger, but it’s not so fun anymore. It used to make me stupid and happy. Now, it just makes me stupid and morose. Not a good combination.

My fear is people will think I don’t like them, just because I have trouble dealing with them en masse. But I do like people.

Under the right circumstances.

A long time ago, I had the rare good fortune of sitting in a circle with people I believed I had nothing in common with and hearing them open their souls. A wise teacher named Joyce created a space for all of us to speak from a deep, tender place inside. It was a revelation. I was amazed by what I learned in that circle.

Amazed to see how narrow my view of other people can be. Amazed to discover that with enough safety, support and plenty of silence, every one of us becomes a teacher/storyteller/seer/actor/shaman of our own truth.

Amazed to learn that not only could I like people, I could freely accept and love the hell out of them when I saw their real selves. I could even accept and love myself! I learned that we all hid secret worlds inside us – like C.S.Lewis’s wardrobe. Underneath our everyday mask, behind our opinions and judgements of ourselves and others, each of us is a portal to an entire lifetime of true stories – tragic, slapstick, wise, mysterious.

This is the struggle. There’s a part of me that walks into a party looking for the door to the magic wardrobe and sees light social banter as a distraction from the real adventure, a screen to keep us from seeing the one thing we most long for in each other – our loving, messy, wild truth.

And there’s another part of me that thinks I am an officious ass who needs to get over herself and just have another glass of wine. And half the hors d’oervres table.

I don’t imagine I’ll ever get fully comfortable with this conundrum. So I’m doing the next best thing. Accepting the discomfort. Acknowledging my weirdness.

And if I cancel on your social event at the last minute, know this: I like you. Really.

But there’s someone inside you that I’m frigging crazy about.  And if you ever want to share that secret self with a fellow weirdo…call me. I am so there.