Tomatoes bring memories of Dad

Dortha Jackson

Isn’t it funny how the taste of something can bring back a flood of memories? I can remember a day when I sliced one of Dad’s tomatoes for an afternoon sandwich, my thoughts turned to the scriptures about the fruits of our labor. It had only been a month and a few days since Dad’s passing. Yet, his tomato plants continued to yield fruit. As long as I could recollect, my father had a garden. Every year was different depending on the situation. Where my parents were living at the time and how much space they had to cultivate would dictate what type of vegetation could be planted and how much. We had seven different homes during the time I lived with my parents, and after my marriage, they had seven additional homes. Each one had a garden. They varied in sizes from several square acres to several square feet. Dad loved to garden. He planted everything from the mundane such as corn, beans, potatoes, squash, tomatoes, and carrots to the less popular strawberries, peanuts, grapes, melons of various kinds, peppers and gourds.
I asked my Dad one morning on our drive to a chemo session what was his fascination with gardening. I wanted to know why he liked it so much. He explained that he just loved putting a seed into the earth and getting something useful back. The whole process was a miracle he said. Still I remember the enthusiasm in his voice as he explained his passion step by step. He said, “Once the seed is planted in good soil, you just have to water it and keep it safe from weeds and pestilence. Then, the seed sprouts. The sprout turns into a plant. The plant blossoms, and finally bears a fruit (or a vegetable.)” He was amazed that whatever he grew could turn out to be so good. I can attest to the fact that Dad had a green thumb. Not only was the food good, it was delicious. The corn was the sweetest I had ever tasted, and the tomatoes had more flavor than any I had ever eaten.
We used to kid my Mom by saying it was just Dad’s feisty sense of humor to plant a garden each year. She would sometimes groan at the yield if it were particularly plentiful. It meant so much work. The bigger the garden, the more work it was. The best gardens to us were those he could manage himself without getting the rest of the family involved. Although I can remember one year in particular that he had a relatively small garden that yielded more than any other before or after. The soil was deeply rich and delivered a flavor of summer delight. My poor mother canned all summer long and grew weary of squash and beans for dinner. After all, Dad didn’t believe in waste. His meticulous nature led to the motto that everything had to be eaten or stored for later consumption.
Isn’t it funny how I can rarely slice a fresh summer tomato without remembering my Dad? He was such a productive person in his life. His gardening was something he was always proud of, but the things he cultivated the most were: helping the sick through his life-long pharmacy career, good friendships, church and community involvement, an unwavering faith, memorable moments, family dinners, backyard barbecues with hand-churned ice cream, fun and games, a devoted husband for forty-eight years, a diligent father for forty-six years, and a loving home to all who entered. My father believed the scripture whole heart and soul, and lived it every day of his life.
“A farmer went out to sow some seed…some fell on good soil, grew up, and yielded grain a hundredfold.”  Luke 8:5-8
Dedicated to the loving memory of my father, Richard Gary Hendrick, 1942-2008.

Dortha Jackson grew up in the Diboll/Lufkin area and has recently returned with her husband, Steve, and their dog, Bear. She spent the last thirty years as a music teacher and church musician in Laredo.