Nantucket Essays

Days Like Tomatoes

~ by Robert P. Barsanti ~

I was driving between the fields at Bartlett’s when I noticed the moon rising up from the pine trees. I pulled the old car over, but left it running. In the dry and cool Autumn air, the moon processed through one thin line to another, slowly losing its tomato color and its remarkable size. The fields had been mowed, the corn harvested, and darkness was falling earlier and earlier. Nobody else was on the road.

In the fall, the island returns to us like a cheating spouse. Suddenly, someone has made brownies for us and our pants have been ironed. Everything is bright and beautiful and wonderful after a summer of golf courses, lawn parties, and sailing trips to Block Island. Now, in the cooling air, the island knocks on the door and begs forgiveness.

In the end, you console yourself, the island came back. The jet flew off one last time to White Plains, the Land Rover was driven onto a late night freight boat, and the furniture is covered by slips. By next July, its eyes will wander again and it will slip away to see if the right name is on the guest list, but for now, in the chilling air, it waits for us.

If you are a fan of farm vegetables, the island has something for you. All of that corn and all of those tomatoes that never quite ripened for the summer folk are still in the fields, waiting for you and a basket. The farmers and the gardeners spend the summer holding off the deer, the birds, and the bugs; then, after the last loaded boat has pulled away from the dock, the green reddens and the silk finally grows.

The old gardener warns that you should try for three plants: one for the deer, one for the bugs, and one to take home. This year, the tomatoes avoided all of the pests and beasts and now their juicy crimson sits in three buckets next to the sink. When my wishes get granted, I don’t get fame, fortune, or adventure. I get three buckets of tomatoes.

I know many things to do with fresh tomatoes, including the grenade lob and the forkball, but most of my list assumes that they won’t be frozen (or thrown). I can make gazpacho, salsa, salad, and that thing with balsamic and mozzarella. Faced with three buckets of bounty, I have to put away all of the cookbooks written in the last fifty years and go to the back of Grandma’s cabinet. Tomato paste, canned tomatoes, and a skin cleanser list themselves in the index. So there is that.

They stare at me with an eye for every hour they took out of my day. On a dry summer like this one, they needed watering. They needed special nets to keep the gulls from eating the blossoms. They needed fences to keep the deer away. And now, here they are. To give them away is to admit defeat in some way; somehow my grandfather would accuse me of cheating. So, they sit.

My boon companion and I slipped away from my blessing. In the fall, the beaches no longer support hundreds of lawyers, stockbrokers, and yoginis in their best altogether. Instead, the sand has walkers and the ocean has Canadian swimmers. To be fair to our friends from the north, swimming in September makes a lot more sense than doing the same thing in June. Nonetheless, the act of bouncing over the waves looks a lot more daring when you are the only ones in the water.

As is his want, the boon companion found a plastic Poland Spring bottle and chased it. He caught it, took three big bites, then dropped it into the wind and went sprinting after. Sometimes he catches the bottled and chews it into submission; other times, he finds that the wind teases him.

Today, in the forgiving glory of an Autumn evening, he caught and subdued the plastic bottle. Unfortunately, his victory came within twenty-five yards of the white glory of a beach wedding. The bride and groom stood barefoot with their backs to the rolling ocean; he wore shorts, she a sun dress.

Friends and family sat on the white folding chairs in various states of formal beachwear and a bonfire was just catching under the caterers watchful eye. For a moment, everyone cast one wary eye on the vicious bottle chewer just a short sprint away. He crunched his prey into submission, each bite sounding as if he was breaking more and more small bones. Mother’s held their children, caterers looked to the tables, and the photographer tried to line up an artsy shot. I leashed the vicious bottle chewer and left the young couple to their bright and sandy future.

For such a philandering island, we have become a marital destination. Each of the fall weekends can claim twenty to forty weddings. The limit seems to depend only on the number of rooms and the relative energy of the celebrants. I can imagine some well-loved reverend waving one tired arm and whispering “No mas.” Yet they keep coming.

Even the most hardened and cynical hearts have to smile. The weather is beautiful, the crowds are thin, and the money is welcome. On Friday, they troop around the downtown in white “Bride” and “Groom” t-shirts while they drink Dark and Stormies to their Bright and Peaceful futures. Very few guests will leave an island wedding sorry they came. And there is plenty of island for everyone.

The days of the fall are like tomatoes; we have too many to enjoy amongst ourselves and would be happy to share.

Articles by Date from 2012