When I was growing up in Spartanburg, South Carolina, every spring we put in a family garden. We planted rows of corn, snap beans, green beans, and okra. At the top of the garden we planted about two rows of tomatoes. We put up stakes and strung cord for vine tomatoes. We also planted yellow tomatoes and standard reds. I remember the year Dad came home with a new variety, the Big Boy tomato, developed to give a larger and juicier fruit. “It will fit better on a slice of bread,” Dad said.
Tomatoes are my favorite fruit. They are sweet and make the best sandwich for a hot summer afternoon. My Dad’s favorite recipe for tomato sandwiches was to spread two slices of Sunbeam Bread with Duke Mayonnaise, salt and pepper each piece of bread and then add three to four peeled tomatoes, sliced about a quarter of an inch thick. These sandwiches he said were best eaten while standing over the kitchen sink.
Wanda’s father loved tomatoes too. In the spring he would give us several five gallon buckets with a tomato plant in each one. “Take these home with you, Bill,” he would say, “water them and keep them on the side of the house that gets the morning sun. I have mixed cow manure with the dirt, so they will not need fertilizing.” Later in the summer he would remind me that plants like water. Eventually he would share his tomatoes with us, having given up on my horticultural skills.
I remember my father-in-law sitting at the kitchen table picking seeds out of a tomato he was eating and placing them on a napkin. “What are you doing?” I asked. “This tomato is so good,” he said, “I thought I would save some seed to plant in the spring.” He would die just a few days later, but he had set an example for all who knew him to never give up on life. He had survived so much in his life. His father died while he was young, he had polio as a child and walked with a limp his entire life, and he spent the early years of his marriage serving in WWII in Hawaii with the Army Air Corps. After the war he came back to Charlotte and built his own business. Through it all, he never stopped believing in tomorrow.
Both my father, Kirk Neely, and my father-in-law, Ray Suddreth, taught me much about life and how important it is to savor all of it and enjoy the simple things, like a thick juicy tomato sandwich on a hot summer afternoon. “Life is too short to get upset about the little things,” my Dad would say. I thank God for these two men in my life who demonstrated daily to me the love of the Heavenly Father.
May God bless your Father’s Day this year,