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Things money can't buy

Daddy and I tilled up a place for a garden next to my house a while back. For numerous reasons - none of which are very good and mostly include an aversion to 90-degree heat - I haven't planted it yet.

But now I might. I know it's late, but this is an emergency situation because one of my favorite foods is off limits.

I like tomatoes a lot. In chili, salsa, on a burger, in a salad, on a sandwich or just sliced with some home cooking - you name it, it probably goes better with a little tomato.

But now the government says we can't eat them. Several kinds are tainted with salmonella, and a bunch of folks have gotten sick. The government knows what types of tomatoes, but it doesn't know where the tomatoes came from, so for the time being, we're not supposed to eat them, not the good kinds anyway.

Well, phooey. Summer without tomatoes? Might as well ban watermelons and tater salad.

But when I get warned about an outbreak of an ailment that attacks the ol' gastric system, I listen. And I don't take chances. If this tomato is tainted, then that one might be, so best to avoid them altogether until we get the all clear - and then wait a little while longer. In the meantime, grow them yourself.

And yes, I know I should be doing that anyway because store-bought tomatoes are never, ever as good as homegrown. But this is the first time I've had a good place to grow them in several years. There's always the roadside produce stand I guess, but like I said, I don't want to take any chances.

So I guess I'll grab a shovel and a hoe, put on a kepi (which I just found out is what you call those hats the French Foreign Legion wears) and venture out into the blazing hot sun to plant some tomatoes. While I'm at it, I'll put some pepper plants out. Homemade salsa beats store-bought, too, whether it comes from Texas or New York City.

Hopefully, I will turn out enough to get me through the salmonella outbreak. And if my garden doesn't do well, I can always raid Daddy's place in Hancock County, or "the country," as he calls his little getaway in the middle of nowhere.

This is kind of a light subject, of course, but all this tomato talk just makes me think of something a little more serious, something I'd really like to have that, unfortunately, I can't get anymore: one of "Pop" Hunter's tomatoes.

And not just one of Pop's tomatoes, but one on a BLT sandwich or with a big ol' plate of black-eyed peas, okra and Silver Queen corn with a slice of ham and a glass of sweet tea, preferably after having come inside to take a break from the Mississippi heat.

Pop married my Granny several years after my Granddaddy died. I didn't know how I'd like having a new grandfather, but Pop was great. He was a nice, loving man with a great sense of humor. He was also an Alabama fan, but we all have our flaws. If you knew Pop, you know he'd laugh at that joke.

He and Granny always grew the biggest, most flavorful tomatoes. I mean giants, like softballs or grapefruits. And they sure were good.

But of course, it's not the tomato so much that I miss. It's sitting on that little bar stool at the end of the counter in Pop's kitchen, Granny at the stove, him in his chair, remote in hand and a chew of Levi Garrett in his jaw, making me laugh.

And that's something you can't buy in the store either.

E-mail Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays.