So one afternoon a few months ago, we piled into the car, drove to the trendy Airstream-turned-coffee-shop where a local CSA farmer, Cindy, was selling tomato and pepper seedlings from the back of her delivery truck. We bought four tomato plants (Cherokee, Mark Twain, Lillian Yellow, and a roma) and one sweet red pepper plant, then we went out to buy the containers and the plain soil Cindy recommended. We planted them and topped it all with homemade compost, then regularly doused the seedlings in watered-down fish emulsion. Fish emulsion is exactly as lovely as it sounds: Although it looks like bottled diarrhea and envelops the deck in the sweet aroma of fresh death, it also organically fertilizes like nobody’s business.
Our plants thrived. We had fruit production before anyone else in the neighborhood.
Recently, though, some of the leaves began to wilt at the ends, turning yellow and brown then dying—just at the tips. Then the plants started to droop, and became sparser by the hour it seemed.
I religiously pruned and paid close attention to the watering. I was worried that our sunny deck was scorching the leaves, just like that one time Noah thought it would be a good idea to give our low-light houseplant a few hours in the
smoldering fires of hell sun on the deck and nearly killed it.
Curiously, though, the sweet red pepper plant continued to thrive.
* * *
Seamus: Oy, Paddy! There’s somefin wrong wif this potayto!
Paddy: Jaysus, Mary, Joseph, and all the saints and martyrs! It’s the blight!
And then everybody starved and died.
* * *
I would have thought that tomatoes were far more like, say, anything other than a potato, but apparently I would have been wrong. Apparently, tomatoes and potatoes are like first cousins. Being Irish and believing strongly in the merits of the potato, I was shocked to learn this, since for most of my life I’ve been suspicious of the decidedly Mediterranean fruit. The heirloom varieties are what changed my mind.
But after what went down on the deck this weekend, the horror that I discovered, the grim death that I was forced to inflict, I started to second-guess myself, which led directly to my natural response to all things bad: Blaming and hollering at the universe. “Is this because I’m Irish?” I shouted to the heavens. “Because I gotta say, universe, THAT’S NOT FUNNY.”
I became suspicious when all four of my plants stopped thriving last week. I became even more suspicious when I came across this post on Food on the Food. I became convinced when I Googled “late blight tomato plant symptoms” and felt nauseated by the grisly images of withered and be-spored tomato plants, because I’m lame like that. The photos looked just like my suffering tomatoes.
The only thing to be done was to (ceremoniously) stuff the diseased plants into trash bags so as to limit their threat of sending their spores into the great grassy beyond. No circle of life for these poor guys. Ashes to ashes, dust to the city dump.
You know, I was surprised about how sad I was. I’d nurtured these plants from seedling, I’d fed my family with their early yields. I had dreams of bringing large baskets of tomatoes to work—all the ones that we wouldn’t be able to eat, because the harvest would be so plentiful—and putting up a little sign that read: “Home-grown heirloom tomatoes, free for the taking!” And then all my coworkers would love me, and fame and fortune would providentially soon follow. Alas, those dreams are gone. I can't imagine the depth of devastation a real farmer must experience when she loses a crop.
When Noah began to snip off the stable yet declining branches of the plants, a song slowly swelled within me, and I had to let it out: With the addition of just a few on-point word changes, my plants were destroyed to the sound of Madonna’s “I’ll Remember,” aka the theme to one of the greatest films of all time, With Honors, starring Brendan Fraser and Joe Pesci.
Say good-bye to not knowing when
The truth in my whole life began
Say good-bye to not knowing how to cry
You taught me that
And I'll remember the tomatoes you gave me
Now that I'm stuffin’ you into a bag
I'll remember the fruit that you gave me
Mmmmm... [I'll remember]
After I'd finished (singing), Noah rolled his eyes, then hauled the four unfortunate vegetables to the garbage can.
"It's okay, babe," he reassured me. "We've still got the peppers."