The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Fruit’


Sometimes I put up a post that I think is one of the best things that I have written only to find the response from you, my audience, is about as deafening as the silence of a tomb.  Other times I put up a post that I like but don’t think will get much response, only to find it is exceptionally popular.

The latter is the case for the post, “My Tomato Plant.”  As it garnered a lot of interest I thought I would give you an update to let you know how things are going.  Of course, if you have been following along for any period of time, getting directly to the point is not my style.  But bear with me – we will make it there.

One of dad’s avocations was handicapping thoroughbred racing.  He enjoyed the excitement of watching these magnificent animals challenge each other and introduced me to the sport when I was around ten years old.  But beyond the thrill of watching them race I learned that he utilized this as a way to supplement his income.  Dad had developed a system – and that system generally worked.

When he was not out of town on business and the horses were racing either at Aqueduct or Belmont Park, on many a Saturday he would take me to enjoy a day at the races.  There was a ritual involved with the day.

First stop – White Castle to pick up a few sliders each.  (Of course, we never told mom about that as she considered it junk food).  And then when we got to the track we would each have a bowl of Chicken Gumbo Soup served with a large roll and a couple pats of butter (fifty cents) or if dad had a few winners we might upgrade to the Manhattan Style Clam Chowder (sixty cents).

Dad was very disciplined in his wagering.  He would only risk a small percentage of the bankroll he had accumulated on the races he had decided to bet.  And he adhered strictly to his mathematical formula – not feeling compelled to bet every race but only those in which he felt he had a mathematical advantage.

The net result was that a typical day might involve an outlay of around one hundred dollars and a net profit (even after White Castle, soup and the gas he had burned getting us to and back from the track) of around thirty dollars.  Dad kept rigorous account of his expenses and deducted them as a “cost of doing business” when he analyzed the results of his system.

Now this might not sound like a lot of money to you but let me put thirty dollars into the perspective of the time.  Thirty dollars would buy three hundred comic books or six hundred candy bars.  Thirty dollars would pay for dad’s carfare on the subway to and back from work for twenty weeks.  A high quality premium lipstick cost one dollar.  And thirty dollars would pay nearly one quarter of our month’s rent on the apartment.

I remember going with him one Saturday and everything that could go wrong did go wrong.  Two of the horses on which dad had wagered had won their races and then been disqualified by the Stewards for jostling other horses.  We hadn’t had a winner all day and I could tell that dad was questioning his handicapping abilities and feeling frustrated.  We weren’t going to bet the eighth race and that left us only the ninth to try to recover from what had been a very disappointing day financially.

The eighth race had finished and dad turned to me.  He folded  up his racing form and put it in his pocket and said, “Things aren’t working out today.  There are days like that.  So why don’t you pick our horse for the ninth race?”

I wasn’t sure I wanted that responsibility.  In fact, I was sure that I didn’t.  But I thought if dad had enough confidence in me to try to pick a winner I was going to do that.  (Of course, my “system” was picking the prettiest horse in the race who wore the nicest colors).

Ten minutes before the race the horses came out on the track for the post parade.  The number four horse was a beautiful grey.  He was wearing colors of emerald green and white and held his head high as he pranced in front of us.  “Number four, Daddy,” I said.

“OK.  Number four it is.”

Dad went off to place our bet and it was at that point that I looked up at the tote board.  The horse I had selected was the longest shot in the race – ultimately going off at 32-1.  My heart sank as I realized that I had sealed our fate of having a losing day.

The race began and our horse got off to a good start but was being challenged by  the favorite which was a beautiful chestnut mare.  The two horses dominated the race and it was obvious that, barring anything unusual, one of these two would be the winner.  The announcer, Fred Capacella did his usual superb job of calling the race and heightening the excitement of the audience.

It came down to the stretch, the two horses battling each other, gaining and losing advantage, and then they crossed the finish line – a photo finish.

“Ladies and gentlemen, hold all tickets,” Mr. Capacella said over the loud speaker system.  My heart was pounding.  I thought the other horse had won – but I couldn’t tell from where we were sitting, a little before the finish line.

When the Stewards finished their review, they put up the four horse as the winner.  We had won – and despite a terrible day took home a net profit of $3.25 after deducting all expenses.

Getting back to my tomato plant, there are still fifteen fruit on it and she is doing her best given the weather we’ve had.  These tomatoes are smaller than the first crop which I attribute to the 110 degree plus weather we endured for a week which coincided with the formation of the fruit.  One is beginning to ripen and is only twice the size of a cherry tomato.  Others on the vine are still green and appear to be growing and are much larger.  So I am sticking to my discipline of giving her filtered water morning and evening and offering her a few kind words at each feeding.  We’re both trying to do our part.

By the way, the reason that I devoted most of this post to our day at the races was that it taught me an important lesson both about life and tomato growing.

The name of the horse I selected in the ninth race was, “Keep Pitching.”


Often have I admitted in these posts that my nickname might well be “The Brown Thumb of Death” when it comes to horticulture.  I even made some plastic flowers wilt once, as I recall.  And this frustrates me because it seems that all of us are called in our lives to be nurturing and productive.

Last year I planted two tomatoes, sweet bell peppers in several colors and a few different chilies.  Since I really don’t have a garden, I’m confined to using pots and window boxes for these experiments.  Sadly, despite my constant attention and care and watering, the entire crop failed.

I thought about this as I viewed the shriveled stalks of these fruits and vegetables and tried to figure out what I had done wrong – yet again.  So I thought, perhaps a 24” pot is not of sufficient size to accommodate two tomato plants.  Next year I’ll try again with only one and see what happens.  And I’ll follow the advice I received to plant it on March 1st and not wait until the middle of the month.

So this year I went to the local nursery and resisted my temptation to buy two Early Girl plants and walked out with only one as well as two cents change from my dollar bill.  It was a struggle getting out with only the one plant.  There were any number of others I would have liked to tried in the window boxes – but I decided they would probably have a better chance of survival with someone else.  So I came home with my lone tomato plant which held its place of honor on the passenger’s seat in the front of the car.

A few days later came March 1st.  I had already prepared the soil in my Early Girl’s intended pot – a fine mixture of good soil and the rich compost I cultivate and early in the morning I put her in her new home.  I was proud of myself.  I had actually centered her and she was standing straight and tall.  I gave her the first bath with the Brita-filtered water that has been her exclusive drink since she came home with me.  And I sat back and admired my handiwork – and prayed that I had not condemned this poor fragile plant to death.

Then came a cold spell and I worried that she might have caught frostbite.  Should I have put a plastic cover on her overnight?  Maybe I should have waited until the middle of the month and this all could have been avoided.  But my Early Girl survived and I continued her morning and evening showers with filtered water.  And in a few weeks I could see that she had grown and was beginning to flower.

I counted the flowers each morning and night realizing that each one might become a tomato.  Six, nine, fourteen.  And then one morning there were only eight – but in their place the beginnings of fruit were being born.  There were six little tomatoes on the plant.  I held my breath thinking that perhaps I finally had found the right path.

And as the days and weeks went by, my plant produced beautiful vine-ripened tomatoes – a total of twelve of them.  While they wouldn’t have taken a prize for their size they were respectable and, most importantly, they were delicious.  The flavor was much more delicate and yet intense than anything I had purchased in a grocery store in the last ten years.  I had done it.  Or more correctly, my tomato plant, with a modicum of assistance from me, had done it.

As I had picked the last of this crop I was surprised to notice that there were several new tomatoes that had formed.  I hadn’t noticed any flowers as with the first crop, so I continued my filtered-water regimen, day and night.  There were only four of them and then one morning there were only two.  I couldn’t find the fallen victims and still don’t know what happened to them.  But I continued the plant’s care hoping that the two survivors might make it to maturity.

After another week, the crop had increased in size and there are now sixteen tomatoes in various stages of development growing on this hardy plant.  And then we leapt in temperature to around 110 degrees and have stayed there for several days.  A respite has been a high of only 105.  I’m pretty sure that this is hardly the ideal weather in which tomatoes flourish.

But I have been tending to my plant day and night and her fruit seems to be growing both in size and number.  How can she withstand this heat wave?  I don’t know but she apparently is putting her best root forward to do what she knows is her job – to give the world tomatoes to enjoy.

While I am hopeful that these tomatoes will ripen and be as delicious as the first crop, I don’t know whether that will happen if we have extended periods of extreme heat.  All  I can do is my part which is to provide her with water morning and evening and a little pep talk at each meal.  Beyond that, what shall be shall be.

But what I learned from my previous years’ attempts at horticulture and from this year’s experience are the following:

Greed impelled me to plant twice as many tomato plants as I should have so that I would have twice as many to eat.  But the result of my greed was that I wound up with nothing.

The second lesson came from seeing how my plant survived and bore new fruit despite poor growing conditions.  My plant didn’t give up.  If I had said, well, there is no way this plant is going to survive this heat and bear any more fruit and had stopped watering her, she would now be part of the compost heap and the fruits which she has produced would never have come about.

But despite the fact that I doubted anything productive would come of it, I continued my regimen of watering.  And I proved myself wrong.  And that was my biggest takeaway.

If we try something we might fail or we might succeed.  But if we decide not to try, we have written our own history of failure.  And we deserve to fail because that is the path we have chosen.

My tomato plant didn’t give up even though she was confronted with horribly adverse conditions.  And if we follow that example, we might all achieve great things, despite the seemingly overwhelming odds set against us.

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