The Tomato Story

imagesMy grandmother grew tomatoes.  She would gently pluck them from the vine and bring them in from her summer garden and line them up on her windowsill, stem side down, and wait.

First thing every morning, while coffee percolated on the stove, she would light her first cigarette and then gently, so very very gently, pat (not squeeze, never squeeze!) each tomato along the sill, to see if one or two or three might be ripe enough, might be perfect enough, to serve her family.

God forbid she’d serve a non-perfect tomato.

I thought about this after I heard the Janay Rice interview this evening.  About tomatoes, of all things.  Mrs. Rice is sitting on the sofa next to her mother, talking about the night of “the incident” and the fact that she has never watched the second video, the one where her husband drags her limp body out of the elevator and drops his injured, unconscious wife to the floor.  I think of gentility.  I think about perfection and responsibility.  My grandmother and her tomatoes.

My grandmother had big strong hands, and she was often embarrassed by them — “Just like my dad’s,” she would sigh — and by the  time I knew her, her hands, the knuckles of her fingers, were swollen and stiffened with arthritis.  She envied the delicate nature and physicality of other women, especially her neighbors/friends, who spent their evenings with a lapful of blue or pink or yellow yarn, knitting heirloom baby blankets for newborn grandchildren.  “I’m so sorry,” she would say when giving a store-bought blanket as a gift, and sometimes she would add with a forced laugh, “But this is so much prettier than anything I could every make.”

I was at a dinner recently with a large group of women, and though I forget exactly what we were talking about, I remember making this statement:  “Women are always apologizing.  Apologizing for themselves, for their opinions, for other people’s actions.”  And at the other end of the table, a woman rolled her eyes big and said dismissively, “That’s just not true.”  I stopped talking.  I moved tomatoes and mushrooms and onions around my plate with the tiny tines of my fork.  And I worried she was right.

I listened to Mrs. Rice say in her interview that the Baltimore Ravens — her husband’s football team, where he recently signed a $35M contract  — “suggested it would be really good if” she make an apology at their news conference.  Suggested she accept blame. “I do deeply regret the role that I played in the incident that night.”  I looked at her, and at her mother sitting next to her on that couch, and I thought of my grandmother.

For days and days after, I wondered about the woman at the dinner.  Her eye roll.  “That’s just not true.”  Was she right?  Was it just me?  I wondered what it would feel like to not feel responsible for every single thing that happens.  I thought about women I see when I play sports, like on the tennis court when women say, every time they miss a ball, “I’m sorry!  I’m sorry!”  I often chastise them for apologizing.  “It’s just game,” I say.  “Come on. No apologies!  You never hear the men saying they’re sorry for missing a ball!”  And yet the next thing I know I’m apologizing, too.  I’m sorry.  Because hey, if this game is going wrong, it must be somebody’s fault.  And maybe it’s mine.

I know where I learned that.

Eons ago I wrote a short story.  Back when I pretended I was writing fiction.  There was this paragraph:  Tomatoes were too plentiful this time of year. She lifted the hem of her dress with her left hand and gently squeezed each tomato with her right, intent on disconnecting only the softest, most mature bulbs, and placing them in the soft hammock of her skirt. Back in the kitchen, she flipped on the light over the sink and deposited her tomatoes on the counter. A few fell to the floor before she could stop them, making her feel like a failure.

I always thought that was a throwaway scene.

There are no throwaway scenes.

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6 thoughts on “The Tomato Story

  1. jschickel

    Sent here by Shana Mahin (and I do what she tells me). This is so, so lovely. Inspiring me on a day when I need inspiration. If Mrs. Rice is apologizing than the world is really turning on a wrong axis and, man, am I sorry about that.

  2. donnaeve

    “Women are always apologizing. Apologizing for themselves, for their opinions, for other people’s actions.”

    This statement reminded me of something my mother said to me the other day. “Southerners never place flowers on the graves of their loved ones.”

    She’s from Maine and the details are too long about her relationship with her southern in laws, or the fact that she’s lived here in the south for the past 58 years, and by virtue of her age and length of time, she’s more southern than northern by now. Either way, what she said is simply not true. I said as much, and followed that with “I need to take you to Greenwood next time your here.”

    I run through that cemetery and it’s full, I mean brimming with flowers. She has this opinion b/c my father’s family never seems to want to honor our deceased by this thoughtful gesture. They dismiss it with “Oh,I meant too, but I forgot,” or, more crudely b/c my father’s family was never short on that, “What for?”

    For me, I will only apologize if I truly think I’ve done something wrong. The thing is, now I’ll be paying extra attention to see if I notice other women doing this. I can’t say I’ve ever picked up on it before. I can say that I was flabbergasted at Janay’s response then, and in the latest interview. Sad.

  3. koehlerjoni

    I so enjoy reading your blog. I don’t know about other women, but I’ve always been prone to take responsibility, then apologize for events even if I’m not sure I did anything wrong. Is it a southern thing? I don’t know. Generational? I just know that it’s true for me and for the other women in my family.

  4. Averil Dean

    Maybe it’s not true for the eye-roll chick, but for many of us, apologizing is the easiest and most natural thing we do. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing—or not a bad thing every time. It indicates an awareness of the other person or people who are affected by our actions, and a sense of humility which I think is generally healthy for man or woman. But I agree that women tend to generate automatic apologies which mean nothing except, Sorry I exist, let me get out of your way.

    I’m not surprised that Janay Rice hasn’t watched the second video. I wonder what will happen when she does.

    1. Teri Post author

      And that’s it exactly, Averil. I can’t imagine not watching the second video, and honestly wonder how she hasn’t seen it.

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