by James Crews
When I bite into the bruise-
colored flesh of this heirloom tomato
known as a Cherokee Purple,
I’m transported back to the dirt road
that ran along the Meramec River
where my father pulled over
at the farm stand, then stepped out
of the truck, brushed for a moment
in gravel dust suspended in the sun.
He came back grinning, gripping
a bag of homegrown Beefsteaks so fat
they were already bursting their juices
through the brown paper, running
down his long-gone hands, which I am
reaching out to touch again before
he turns the key in the ignition,
begging him not to go, not just yet,
as I salt the next slice.
In the twenty years I’ve lived without my father, I have found that we can bring our loved ones back to life, even if briefly, by observing small rituals like the one I describe in this poem. Every summer, as the tomatoes ripen on their vines, I make the time to have one alone, salting the slices as my father once did, and remembering him back into the present moment with me. Tomatoes were one of his favorite things in the world, and he never passed up the chance to enjoy one. I’ll never forget the day he and I were driving back from the hospital, before the worst of his Hepatitis C had begun to take its toll. Without warning, he pulled off on a dirt road near the Meramec River and parked next to a farmstand I had no idea even existed. I can still see him stepping out into the cloud of gravel dust our truck had kicked up, then coming back a few minutes later with a packed bag of Beefsteak tomatoes so juicy they were leaking through the brown paper onto his hands. But what I recall most clearly, what returns to me each time I bite into the first Cherokee Purple of the season, is the innocent, childlike smile that spread across his face. That smile never fails to remind me of the brevity of life. It reinforces the necessity of relishing our simple joys, and of being vulnerable enough to share such unguarded happiness with the ones we love. When we allow ourselves to fully feel our joy, we teach others to do the same.
Invitation: Describe some way one of your own lost loved ones comes back to you. Do you remember them when you eat certain foods they loved, or visit a particular place? Has this become a ritual for you, and if not, how might you make it a regular practice to bring back someone you miss?