Summer Peaches and Tomato Gardens
By Anthony Buccino
Watering the garden was a chore best completed before sunset. After sunset, starving squadrons of Jersey mosquitoes searched ravenously for the warm-blooded.
Sucking on a
peach pit is the perfect way to while away a steamy summer afternoon.
Roll it around carefully and use the pointed end of the pit to pick out the strands of peach fuzz and pulp between teeth.
All this while the taste of fresh peach tingles through your cheeks.
One of the first things Dad did when we moved into the big house in Belleville was to chop down the black walnut trees and plant a half-dozen peach trees in their stead.
It wasn't long before the low growing peach trees bore fruit and we filled baskets while we decided what to do with the bounty.
Surrounding the small grove of peach trees was Dad's tomato garden. It was about 12 feet across and formed a U about 90 feet long.
Late in spring, he handed me the pitchfork and showed me how to break up the soil in small 6- to 8-inch clumps, then turn it over and break it up or down, as the case may be.
He told me I could keep some of the worms for fishing, if I wanted to.
But, of course, being almost a teenager, I knew I could pull up bigger clumps of soil and get the work done much faster and then be off to the fishing hole so much sooner.
This proved that my old man knew what he was talking about when he showed me to work in short narrow lines to turn over the soil.
A few strokes of hauling gargantuan clumps of dirt and turning it over – my way – soon proved to be much too strenuous despite the hurried efforts of a 12-year-old.
Dad started the tomato plants in the small hot house he built next to the garage. When the soil was turned – no mean feat, really – and the green tomato plants large enough, he planted them neatly in the weed-free garden.
As the plants grew, Dad attended each stalk and gently tied it off to a homemade stake so it could grow tall and the tomatoes could grow off the ground and away from the bugs and fish bait.
On steamy summer evenings, Dad and I shared the watering duties. We ran four lengths of 50-foot garden hoses across the length of the yard and let the water run through the dirt paths between the plants.
In the water shortage years, Dad placed five 50-gallon drums at the back of the garage to catch the run-off. Watering the plants involved a gazillion trips across the yard with a watering pail or two.
Watering the garden was a chore best completed before sunset. After sunset, the Jersey mosquitoes appeared in starving squadrons searching ravenously for the warm-blooded.
Dad did all he could to encourage robins to build nests in the peach, apple and plum trees, but there were never enough bug-eating birds to control the neighborhood flights of blood-sucking mosquitoes.
At first, small green things the size of peas appeared on the tomato vines, then they grew to the size of cherries.
Almost before our very eyes as the summer waned, there would be big green things about the size of softballs growing on the vines straining the string that held the tall plants to the long thin sticks.
Nearly overnight, it always seemed, the tomatoes turned red. Soon
there were bushels and bushels of tomatoes.
Mom fixed tomato salads and Dad sent me off with my little red wagon and bags of tomatoes for all the people in the neighborhood. And we still had "more tomatoes than Carter has pills," Mom used to say.
The peach trees had good years and bad years. Sucking on a peach pit after all these years conjures the good years as clearly as a Norman Rockwell painting.
Summer afternoons were spent rolling around with our mutt lying on the grass staring at the perfect tufts of clouds that drifted lazily toward the city, dreaming of the day we'd have our driver's license and be free to come and go as we please.
The big treat of those long ago summers was our annual trip to Olympic Park in Maplewood/Irvington. That great big amusement park was so far away, we took the Garden State Parkway to get there.
If the weather was right and Dad's car running well, my Uncle Butch loaded us into the Rambler station wagon and we headed 'down the shore' to Keansburg for a Sunday night at the games. Dad wasn't much of a shore person, or a vacation person, either. He had spent all the beach days he'd ever want in the Solomon Islands.
The full moon set over the Parkway as we inched our way north through unbearably slow traffic with a bunch of tied kids sprawled behind the back seat eating peaches.
© 1997 by Anthony Buccino
Originally Published in Worrall Community Newspapers. 7/10/1997
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New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards.
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