Here’s a story for you. Last summer amid my health woes, my teenaged niece came to visit from Hawaii. Her stay was pretty much the only ray of sunshine that whole summer. She babysat the kids, helped out around the house, and generally entertained us with her perky self for two weeks.
While the summer as a whole is a big black hole in my memory, I remember lots of things about her visit: watching food TV and enjoying her wisecracks during that paper-thin window of time between when the kids went to bed and my own eyes involuntarily clamped shut. Fishing at Spy Pond (mostly fishing lures out of trees at Spy Pond). Me setting a good example for said niece by getting pulled over by the cops for a traffic violation. And then there was the tomato-picking.
You may recall last year’s widespread tomato blight. Every farm in the area was hit and even people’s backyard plants were doomed to the same terrible fate. I didn’t see a ripe local heirloom tomato all summer, which was very depressing indeed. Until. Somebody snuck me some classified information. Apparently there was a stand of sungold cherry tomatoes on public property within the Waltham city limits that was entirely free of blight and ready to be harvested. The woman who told me this said it so casually, I almost didn’t believe her. Didn’t she realize this was THE BEST NEWS EVER?
I didn’t ask any questions. With no time to lose, I took another hit of my anti-nausea meds and pointed my niece and kids in the appropriate direction. My niece, who spent most of her formative years on an organic garden bursting forth from fertile, volcanic island soil, patiently indulged me. When we got to the building in question and walked around back, I didn’t see the garden anywhere. I’d been tricked! What kind of a person lies about tomatoes to a cancer patient? As we turned around to trudge back, my niece noticed what looked to be a patch of kale. Yes, that was definitely kale. Well done, adolescent human! What more dost thou youthful eyes behold?
And there they were. High up on a terrace of a south-facing slope were the tomato plants, golden orbs shining like treasure. No wonder nobody had found them—they were growing ten feet above our heads. You had to pass underneath several retaining walls, then walk up the far side of the hill to access them or even see them. The garden was completely encircled by a sprawling edifice on one side and conservation land on the other, and, beyond that, train tracks, a cemetery, and the Charles River. A more protected tomato fortress I cannot imagine.
I felt exhilarated—thrilled to encounter this pristine patch of perfect tomatoes, completely disease-free against all odds. We got to work filling up two pint-sized containers with the taut, sun-burnished fruits, popping some into our mouths as we went. Finally, the janitors in the building overlooking the garden started banging trashcans against the windows to put a stop to our small-scale looting. It worked! We scuttled away giggling, mouths full, tomato juice dribbling down our chins.
I bring this up for three reasons: 1) I miss my niece; 2) I’ve developed a relationship with this particular garden (a healthy one—more on this later); and 3) Sometimes beautiful little acts of disobedience are the best medicine.