The Farmer's Daughter
I am a farmer's daughter. Now before you jump to conclusions, let me tell you that none of those stories are true! We farmer's daughters were likely to be found clad in bib overalls, with a bandana around our heads and a hoe in hand. Not to mention that we were often caked in dirt and in possession of a decidedly unsexy sunburn. I'd say that, on an average day, we were about as appealing as a scarecrow scaring birds in a field.
My father grew tomatoes, and he was good at it. He would take the harvest to the Heinz plant, which gave him awards over the years for growing the best tomatoes in northern Ohio. This was no mean accomplishment. When I remember him during that time, it was as a hard-working man who left the house at dawn, experienced a brutal and unforgiving sun all day and often returned late at night. During planting time, he didn't even come in for lunch or dinner. One of us would take a packed meal to him and he would eat it as he drove his tractor. Getting in the crop took precedence over everything else.
There is a vast difference between the tomatoes my father grew and the ones you find in today's supermarkets, which sell both sorry and anemic imitations. The tomatoes my father grew could be eaten like apples off the vine. I will never forget the pungent odor that would envelop me when I raised one to my mouth; the feel of the warm and yielding flesh, the perfect consistency when I chewed it, the luscious juice exploding in my mouth and running down my chin. Unfortunately, those perfect tomatoes only seem to grow in the Midwest.
Some years my father's hard work paid off and other years it didn't. Success or lack thereof was tied to the weather, a capricious mistress, to say the least. In good years, my mother would perhaps find a fur coat under the Christmas tree and the family would get to vacation in Florida. In bad years, we worried about being able to even have the basics, like sufficient food and clothing.
My memories of the farm include watching my mother drive the truck that pulled the planting device, whose object was to place the plants in the furrows my father had plowed. My father would stand in the back of the truck supervising while my brother and I followed behind straightening the plants and watering them. Driving the truck was a miserable job. There was no air conditioning in the cab in those days and the driver had to maintain a steady slow speed over rough terrain. On this day, my father suddenly shouted to my mother to stop, which she did. So quickly and so forcefully, however, that she dumped my father off the end of the truck.
After picking himself up and having a few words with my mother, he climbed back on the truck. The next time he asked her to stop, he asked her less emphatically, but she did not stop less emphatically. Hence, my father was, once again, dumped. More words for my mother. After this happened a third time, my mother never had to drive the tomato truck again. I have often wondered if that was her plan all
As you can tell, tomatoes were important in our lives. I remember that my brother and I had to hoe the weeds from the fields and also search for the dreaded TOMATO WORM. Actually, "worm" isn't a grandiose enough word for those larger-than-life bright green critters that clung to the insides of the vines. They were as thick as an index finger, but longer. They blended in perfectly with the tomato plant and were very difficult to see. My brother and I would make a game of how many worms each of us could find. The loser had to pay the winner a nickel for however many more worms he/she found.
The experience of being a farmer's daughter also meant that I lived in the country and lacked access to children my own age. My one friend was Corina. Corina was from Mexico and she and her extended family would arrive every year at planting time and return home after picking the final harvest. A plus to that relationship was that I learned to speak a little Spanish, but the knowledge disappeared over time, along with Corina, who went home to Mexico one fall and never returned.
My dad retired in the 1970s, and sadly, sold the farm to a developer. And so I, like Corina, never returned.
But in my heart, I'll always be the farmer's daughter.