Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Mid-summer Morning Walk

Rocky's "office" (Margo D. Beller)
For a number of reasons, I have stopped taking daily walks in the early morning before work. Part of it is the heat. You have to get up early to walk when at midday it is 10 degrees hotter than it should be in suburban New Jersey, and there are some mornings it is all I can do to get to the bathroom in time, and then wrap a robe around me so I can put the thistle feeder out for the goldfinches.

But I have been trying to walk more, even though the birds I hear I can find as easily in my backyard - fish crows, Carolina wrens, cardinals, grackles, song sparrows.

As I walk, staying out of the way of the people running on the sidewalks or the people with dogs or the ones with the baby carriages, I think about other walks in other years.

That made me think of Rocky.

Tomatoes (Margo D. Beller)
Before MH and I moved to New Jersey, we lived in Queens, NY. Our landlady, who lived upstairs, had a big backyard where she grew tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, zucchini and had a huge fig tree. When she would visit her daughter's family in California, she would allow me to pick the vegetables, leaving most of them on her kitchen table and taking the rest. I have never been able to eat a fig or a tomato since then without thinking of Mary's garden. All the tomatoes I've bought, even from farm markets, just don't taste the same.

Then we moved to NJ. A few streets over, every summer, a handmade sign would be hammered into the grass at the corner. "Tomatoes" it would read, with an arrow pointing up the street.

It took me a few years to finally get the interest or the courage to investigate. I found a house on the corner where a huge hunk of property had been converted to growing tomatoes. I walked to the garage and looked in. A neighbor across the street called over that "he" might be in the house and to come back. It took weeks but I did.

I talked to Rocky, the man selling the tomatoes, who was in a wheelchair and hooked up to air because of emphysema. It did not stop him smoking or watching TV, usually westerns, with a small fan going.

Zucchini plants (Margo D. Beller)
He told me how he would put in a winter crop, plow it under, put down manure and then put in the various types of tomatoes. When he couldn't do it, neighbors would come over and do it. I picked a number of tomatoes and he threw in some basil he was growing. The tomatoes were delicious, the closest to Mary's I'd found.

For several years I would visit him every week, stocking up on tomatoes.

Then, two years ago, the sign did not go up. I later heard Rocky had died. His family has kept the garden going but now only half of it is tomatoes and they are not for sale. In the other half of the garden grow zucchinis and peppers. That house must have a lot of stewed tomatoes and sauce in the cellar.

I miss Rocky and I miss those tomatoes. I don't miss the walking, however. I'll have to make do with farm market tomatoes.

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