It is too beautiful outside. I have been doing all kinds of chores, to avoid doing real work. I cleaned up the kitchen, emptied the dishwasher, harvested clumps of Romeo's abandoned cat hair. While taking out the trash I circled around to pull a few weeds and prune my tomatoes. I thought about my Dad.
He was a go-with-the-flow guy most of the time, but was military-precise when it came to putting away his tools, grilling cheeseburgers, and growing tomatoes. So I think of him when I do all three.
"Pinch off the suckers." Suckers are little shoots that sprout in the Y of other tomato branches, sort of like a new toe sprouting between your others. I pinch them off because Dad said so, but I have no idea why. A scientist at heart, I'd let one go and see what happens, but I'm too chicken.
I once worked with a southerner named Sam. He would place his fragile little tomato seedlings in the dirt, then systematically clap his hands harshly onto each one, nearly smashing it. "It teaches 'em that the world is tough," he explained. "They learn, and they'll grow stronger for it."
I don't know whether he tried this philosophy on this children. I got this advice when my daughters were still little, but I didn't adopt it as a parenting tactic, mostly because my girls were both Leos, and Leos respond better to being put on a pedestal.
After hearing Sam's other stories I began doubting his judgement. For instance, he explained that northerners (anyone north of Fort Smith, Arkansas) don't know how to eat bananas. We are supposed to wait until the skin is black, because that's when they are sweetest. He's kind of right about that, but by then the bananas themselves look a little too close to the end of the digestive chain, so I still eat them when they're green, which is to say, yellow.
Sam's tomatoes turned out great. His kids were hit-and-miss.
Is anybody out there a channeler? I'd like to ask Dad how to keep my cilantro from dying off before the tomatoes are ripe, so I can make salsa.