Funny, how one simple little ordinary thing can take you back in time so vividly. I had a time-travel experience today thanks to the gifts from a neighbor here on the beach.Ted came in the door last night with a second bag of homegrown tomatoes, some peppers and a beautiful onion pulled straight out of the garden of a neighbor across the street from us. This kind man had shared some of his fresh, homegrown vegetables last week and they were wonderful.
Rinsing off the bright red tomatoes, I was taken back in time to the days when I lived with my grandparents in a little town built up around a mill village near Atlanta. Times were much more simple and life had no cares and heartaches — not that I knew about, anyway. People seemed happy and neighbors loved neighbors and families stuck together no matter what. We did not travel out of DeKalb County for much of anything, and a day trip to Athens where our big University of Georgia is located, was an experience that we talked about for weeks on end.
Secretly in my heart, I made a plan. I’m not known for being selfish, but there was one particular tomato that looked simply inviting. It just seemed to be begging to be sliced, with the skin still on the outside, cut thinly and placed on fresh, thin-sliced white bread that had been slathered with Blue Plate mayonnaise. No other brand would do for my Mama Cole or for me. Sorry, that’s a family tradition I will not break even if it does cost nearly $4 a jar now in the local market. At any rate, I laid the other tomatoes out on the cabinet top, but I put that one to the side nearer the big canister that holds our sugar.
Sure enough, my treasure stayed hidden all night long and today at lunchtime, it was still there. Ted was downstairs working on some project or another and Steven was at school due to a make up day for inclement weather back in February. The house was quiet, still and peaceful. I made a bit of a ceremony out of laying out my fresh bread (thought of you, Chad, when I smelled that fresh bakery aroma coming from the plastic bag), putting on the Blue Plate thick like I prefer it being done, adding just a hint of salt and lots of black pepper. I had also put a Pepsi in the freezer and it was just right with little pieces of ice floating inside the bottle. Life is good. I sat down and enjoyed that tomato sandwich as much as I would have a Ruth Chris steak, although they’re pretty hard to beat.
I could see in my mind’s eye my precious Mama Cole working in her neat, orderly, and precise vegetable garden in her back yard. She often allowed me to help harvest whatever was ripe or ready to eat. She always wore a big apron when working around the house and that apron could hold more than most hampers, baskets, buckets or wheelbarrows anyone else used. She somehow lifted up the bottom, pushed in out from her body and she and I could fill that piece of material with some amazing things. She then would fold it back up from the front and hold the vegetables or fruits secure until we went inside the cool kitchen where she washed the homegrown goodies, cut them up, stored them for another time, or decided we could eat one or two right on the spot.
I’ve traveled to a lot of distant cities, visited with some famous folks, written their stories, and enjoyed a lot of delicious meals in my lifetime and career, but there are few things better to me that the tomato sandwich on white bread with my Blue Plate mayonnaise today here in my cottage on the beach.
God is good. My life is blessed. May I ever be mindful of His blessings and may my gratitude and appreciation to those who taught me a simple way of life never tarnish or fade from memory.
The Bible teaches us in the Book of Proverbs, Chapter 22, Verse 28, “Remove not the old landmarks, which thy fathers(and mothers) have set.” That little vegetable garden in Georgia, overflowing with bountiful goodness because of hard work, diligent care, lots of warm sunshine and cooling waters, and many a prayer, is as much a landmark of my life than any cathedral or sanctuary in the world. It was there at my Mama Cole’s knee that I learned what is truly valuable in life — providing for family, preparing good food to eat and share, and how to truly enjoy the hard labor that produced the fruit of our effort. I thank God for humble beginnings in life.
Brenda Cannon Henley is an award-winning journalist and writer living on the Southeast Texas Gulf Coast. Having enjoyed more than four decades in ministry, Brenda shares her columns with our readers and works with churches and faith-based programs nationwide. She can be reached at (409) 781-8788 or at brendacannonhenley [at] yahoo [dot] com.