Where toma­toes grew, a hate­ful patch of sod

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NEWS - John Kass [email protected]­bune.com Twit­ter @John_Kass

I’m not in the habit of us­ing my col­umn to pub­licly mock Tri­bune read­ers who may dis­agree with my views. Read­ers are our cus­tomers. And our cus­tomers feed our fam­i­lies and help put food — in­clud­ing toma­toes — on our ta­bles.

Be­sides, it takes a vil­lage, re­mem­ber?

But lately, peo­ple have been writ­ing me on an ex­tremely touchy sub­ject. No, not about the Mueller re­port. If you haven’t fig­ured out by now that Rus­sia’s Vladimir Putin took our na­tional mania to make pol­i­tics into our re­li­gion and used it to play Democrats and Repub­li­cans against each other in the mother of all dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns, I re­ally can’t help you.

Sim­ply eat of the lo­tus fruit, rely on Google to pro­tect in­tel­lec­tual free­dom and for­get the repub­lic.

To­day, I’ve got more im­por­tant lo­cal is­sues to dealt with.

As lo­cal as that hate­ful patch of green sod in my back­yard — a dark green 30-by-30 foot square — where I once sought refuge from the red meat of pol­i­tics, so­cial me­dia “woke scolds” and never-end­ing dead­line pres­sure.

It was a place to get away, with a roll of jute in my pocket, tend­ing vines and lis­ten­ing to White Sox games on the ra­dio, think­ing of what kind of player Luis Robert might grow into once he gets to the ma­jors. A place to hear the sound of wa­ter in the morn­ings be­fore work, lis­ten­ing to Baroque mu­sic and lis­ten­ing to June bugs in the evening af­ter work and the col­umn is done.

But there, I find refuge no more. I can’t even look at it now. I hate the green of the grass on it.

Yes, I know that I’m back­ing into this slowly. So what? Please in­dulge me, be­cause it hurts, like this most kind and gra­cious let­ter from reader Jack Er­linger of Hoff­man Es­tates, so kind that it cuts me even more deeply.

“I am con­cerned that pol­i­tics and other ‘Chicago Way’ sub­jects are dis­tract­ing you from what is RE­ALLY im­por­tant, home grown toma­toes,” writes Jack. “I haven’t read a thing in your col­umns re­cently on how your gar­den is do­ing & whether Zeus the Won­der Dog is pro­tect­ing against invaders. Yes, it’s been a hor­ri­ble start to the Tomato crop, mine caught a curly leaf dis­ease, but they are com­ing back now. I start mine from seeds, many I har­vest my­self, I be­come at­tached to the plants as if they are part of my fam­ily. Thank­fully, this re­cent hot weather has help. The flow­ers are abun­dant & ARE pro­duc­ing tiny Toma­toes. Heck, I have some Cherry Toma­toes that are ready to eat to­day. Now THAT is some­thing to be happy about! “I of­fer you en­cour­age­ment and hope your gar­den sur­vived a hor­ri­ble spring! (from a Tomato plants view­point). Hope to read some­thing soon re­gard­ing your gar­den. Jack in Hoff­man Es­tates”

Well, Jack, I don’t know what to say. I’m struck dumb with grief and self-loathing, so I’d bet­ter tread care­fully. And I haven’t re­sponded to Ann Baker and Ge­orge P. Il­liopou­los (who has a fan­tas­tic tomato crop) and other gardeners, in­clud­ing the Yoda of Toma­toes him­self, Mike Hart­ley, of Huntley, and many, many more.

You’ve all asked about my gar­den. That’s what gardeners do. We ask. But here’s the thing:

I have no tomato gar­den this year. There, I said it. And I leave that sen­tence alone, so that I may con­tem­plate its sim­ple mis­ery for­ever.

Ed­i­tors around here have sug­gested that I “come clean” with read­ers about my gar­den is­sue, but I haven’t, most prob­a­bly out of shame. A gar­dener be­comes at­tached to their gar­den, the way some of us be­come at­tached to our jobs and are de­fined by them. A gar­den is a place to go to in the morn­ing.

But I thought, with all that’s gone on this year, that I wouldn’t have the time and en­ergy to de­vote hours to it each day. It takes time to wa­ter, to tend and to wait with Zeus for rabbit invaders. It takes time to sweep the dirt off the land­scape fab­ric like a crazy man; and time to snip the per­fect tips of purslane for salad.

So, I stupidly, fool­ishly made a bad gar­den choice. I ended it. And now I hate my­self.

The land­scape men came and re­moved the tim­bers that once out­lined the swingset area for the kids that even­tu­ally be­came my gar­den. They wheeled in their hate­ful green sod and cov­ered the loamy soil be­neath. That soil that took me years to get just right, adding that smelly com­post I made the mis­take of load­ing into Betty’s car.

The men with the sod nod­ded to me. But I couldn’t even look at them.

And I couldn’t look at kind let­ters from other gardeners, such as that one from Jack in Hoff­man Es­tates or from many of you out there who wanted to talk about toma­toes and all the rain this year in pur­suit of Yemista (stuffed toma­toes) and the clas­sic tomato, bacon and let­tuce sand­wich.

My friend Bill at the ci­gar store tells me about nuns on the South Side in my old neigh­bor­hood who have a tremen­dous gar­den. They don’t wear habits, but I might visit them. Just to watch them work it and talk.

And I’m told of a great tomato gar­den near a sub­ur­ban high school that in­volves kids with spe­cial needs. I want to visit that gar­den too.

And next year? Next year I’m go­ing to have my own gar­den.

Lis­ten to “The Chicago Way” pod­cast with John Kass and Jeff Car­lin — at www.wgn­ra­dio.com/cat­e­gory/wgn-plus/thechicago­way.


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