by Maxine Weintraub
“Hey, Susan.–’tis I. The usual used-to-be-grammatically-correct greeting.”
“Oh, Alice–hang on for sec while I check on Charlie. Charlie? Charlie?!”
Being put on hold at our age is a scary thing. What looks like a small blip on the radar screen could end up being a rogue wave of epic proportions–a ship sinker, for god’s sake.
“Susan?? Is everything okay?”
“Oh, sorry. Everything is fine except that I think Charlie has somehow flipped out. Do you know what he has been doing in this heat? Lugging the tomato plants around from shade to sun. And he’s talking to them. i really think he is getting dotty.”
Did I dare tell my friend what I had been doing before I called her?
I had been walking my tomato plants around the front courtyard, chatting with them as I moved them from full blistering sun to partial shade. Chatting with tomato plants like a crazy old lady who lives alone with piles of outdated newspapers. Well, I am a bit of a crazy old lady, and I live with my crazy old husband, and I am really into nurturing those tomato plants. Believe me, I understand my friend’s husband Charlie. Charlie–balding, rotund, and full of life in his eighties–lending a hand to those tomato plants, supplying that life force we once provided the children.
Now, I don’t talk to geraniums or day lilies, although I may whisper to them from time to time about their beauty and steadfastness. A rose bush can be verbally scorched for a thorn-pricked bleeding finger. But the tomato plants are different. And I will give them all the help they need. The real problem is the weight of the pot. As the summer progresses, the pots get heavier and heavier. If I let them stay in one place, i cannot go away for even a day–in that heat, they need water several times a day. And that much water is not good for them either. It tends to leach ]calcium from the soil in the pot, causing blossom end rot. Now did you REALLY want to know all of that about those damned tomato plants? And if not, think about the black spots on the bottom of the tomatoes. You caused that. Bad nurturing. Failure. Wrong.
Tomato plants need to be raised, cared for, talked to, and moved out of harm’s way. Be it too much sun, too much water, too much shade, tell them not to worry. And drag them around. You’ve got their back.
But oh, Charlie, don’t you sometimes get to the end of your rope? Sometimes the plants can no longer be lugged around. They are too heavy, or they don’t want to produce, or the blossom rot just breaks your heart. Can’t you just look at the darned plant and say it’s time to sink or swim, Early Bird or Big Boy. You are on your own. Leave it be.
Let it go. You don’t have to care anymore. Stop dragging them around. It will kill you. You will have a heart attack. Too heavy a load.
They will either thrive, or they won’t . . .
Maxine has been taking writing classes with both Betsy Campbell and Marjorie Roemer since joining BOLLI three years ago. She has also been an active participant in the Writers Guild and serves as the editor of the BOLLI Journal. In her spare time, she talks to tomatoes…