I write after my real job hoping one day to have it be my real job. When I’m not reading or writing short stories, you might find me fishing or solving crossword puzzles.
Me and Bart and the Tomato War
It was the third week of September and about time for the first frost. That meant tomato picking. Mom thought it was a good idea to help the church and the community. I thought it was enough help for the church and community if I stayed out of trouble, but apparently, that was not enough.
Farmer Harris grew fields and fields of tomatoes for the local stores and for anyone who stopped at his farm stand. The third weekend in September was the annual tomato harvest for the Daughters of Dorcas group at the church. Since Mom was head of “The Daughters,” of course I would be picking tomatoes on the weekend. I didn’t mind it really.
Mom hugged me and said, “Last year we canned 2000 quarts of tomato sauce. We hope to break last year’s record.”
I couldn’t figure out why they wanted more tomato sauce than last year. The church was famous for its spaghetti benefit suppers. Hardly a winter week went by without a supper benefiting someone or something. I liked spaghetti, but a pizza and coke fundraiser sure would be nice once and a while.
Bart showed up bright and early Saturday morning and said, “I’m ready.” Bart’s mom didn’t make him pick tomatoes but he came anyway. He’s a true friend.
During the ride to the farm, Me and Bart talked about how good the baseball season was and about picking tomatoes. We were among the first to arrive at the tomato farm so Mom could help organize. Me and Bart carried kettles to the burners for making sauce and lined up pails for picking to get ready for the 9 am start.
Bart put the last kettle down and said, “I love spaghetti and can’t wait for the spaghetti lunch. How about you?”
“Yup. It’s really good and we can eat all we want.”
Mr. Harris was a big guy and easy to spot in his coveralls and floppy hat. He was all smiles as he thanked the dozens of pickers who showed up. We were to leave the green tomatoes and pick all the others. The red ones were to go directly to “The Daughters” to cook sauce on site and the yellow ones were to go in special crates. He said they’d ripen later and would be made into sauce in a couple weeks.
Me and Bart grabbed buckets ready to start for the field when Bart stopped.
Nodding toward the parking lot, he said, “Would you look at that.”
I looked and who did I see but Fred Wick and Billy Ferber. The two biggest bullies in school strutting around like they owned the place.
“I guess reciting the Hail Mary three times wasn’t enough, they had to come here to repent,” I said quietly. “They cause trouble wherever they are.”
“Just ignore them,” Bart said. “Besides, since the bicycle incident, they’ve pretty much left us alone. I guess they didn’t want us to tell everyone about that.”
We both laughed. Me and Bart picked lots of tomatoes and carried them back and forth to the cooking pots all morning. By the time lunch was ready, we were hungry.
While we ate, we kept hearing “We’ll have no problem breaking last year’s record, we have lots of good tomato pickers.” Me and Bart were a year older, stronger, and faster and we sure picked a lot of tomatoes.
Bart mopped up the last of the sauce on his plate with a piece of bread and said, “The sauce tastes better when you helped pick the tomatoes.”
I was collecting up our lunch plates but dropped them onto the ground when I got bumped into from behind. It was Billy and Fred.
“Look at these two morons. I bet they actually picked tomatoes.”
Bart stood up and said, “Hey, if it isn’t the two whitest butts in school. We’d love to stay and chat but we have to pick tomatoes.”
The two bullies started for Bart but stopped when Mr. Harris spoke to the crowd.
“We have a special treat this year for all who want to participate. We’re going to have a tomato war. You get to throw tomatoes at each other. There’ll be two areas roped off and you get to choose your own teams. Should be fun for everyone. No sense having all these green tomatoes go to waste. Keep picking and help “The Daughters” break last year’s record amount of sauce. We’ll have the tomato war at 4 pm. Let’s get back to picking.”
Bart tugged my sleeve as he got up from the table and told the bullies, “We’ll see you at 4 pm.”
We picked for a couple of hours while I kept worrying. “Bart, what’ll we do about Billy and Fred at 4 pm?”
“We’ll cream ‘em at the tomato war. You wait and see.”
I wasn’t sure, but Bart always seemed to have a plan.
“Look at that, Bart. Fred and Billy just took tomatoes from those younger kids and tipped over the buckets of those two new kids in school. They’re quiet and shy in class. Where are they from anyway? They seem nice.”
“I dunno, but they may give them a battle, those new kids are strong, they did more sit ups and pushups than anyone else in gym class.”
“It’s not right, maybe I should tell my mom.”
“Nah, just pick tomatoes, we have twenty feet left of this row. We’ll take care of them later.”
We carried the last of the ripe tomatoes to the kettles and saw two areas roped off. All the pickers were gathered around the areas waiting for Mr. Harris to speak.
“Go get the two new kids to be on our team,” Bart said. “Billy and Fred, I suppose you two are too chicken to join the fun, huh?”
I wasn’t sure taunting them was a good idea but I went to get the two new kids on our team.
Mr. Harris stood in the area between the ropes with all the pickers around him and smiled. Then he announced, “The rules are simple. Throw green tomatoes. If you don’t want to be hit, don’t play. There’s nowhere to hide. Just divide yourselves up into two teams. When you’ve had enough, leave the roped-off area. Only throw from the roped-off area. That’ll put some distance between the teams. We start in ten minutes. Go gather green tomatoes.”
Every tomato picker wanted to be part of the tomato war. Bart rounded up the younger kids Billy and Fred had been bullying and I got the two new kids. We huddled together as a team and figured out a strategy. We would only throw at Billy and Fred. No one else.
Piles and piles of green tomatoes were in each area, like little green cannon balls on the grass. The adults gathered around to watch. This was going to be good.
“Ready, set, tomato war!” cried smiling Mr. Harris.
Unluckily for Billy and Fred, my pitching arm was still in baseball shape.
Fred Wick was bending over to grab a tomato and SPLAT! The first hit of the day was in the middle of his back; the second splat was on Billy Ferber’s arm as he looked at Fred. The areas were far enough apart that the smaller kids on the bullies’ team had trouble throwing the tomatoes all the way to us without a large arc. Bart started catching these and firing them back. Most of our team had been nailed a time or two but everyone was smiling and laughing.
SPLAT! SPLAT! Two more direct hits on Fred. That had to be at least ten hits on both him and Billy. Me and Bart were hit a couple of times, but nothing like Billy and Fred. They were moving to the back of the area and using the other kids as shields, so I went to gather more tomatoes.
Bart yelled to the other team, “Fred and Billy I see you hiding in the back with the girls”
Well, that brought them charging to the front and the two new kids started nailing them with direct hits, much to the enjoyment and laughter of both teams. A few kids at a time were getting done and moving out of the roped off area, making those two an easier target.
“Look at those two getting nailed.” said Bart.
“Yeah, and did you see who nailed them? We’re always looking for good arms for our baseball team. Imagine having a center fielder who can get the ball all the way to home plate.”
Soon there was only Fred and Billy left on their side and they were getting nailed so bad they couldn’t even return fire. They were covered with tomato seeds and green tomato skins. It was great. About that time, Mr. Harris stepped in and stopped the tomato war. We were about out of green tomatoes anyway.
The two bullies were standing alone in their roped-off area, fists clenched and teeth clenched. Bart didn’t help the situation when he called out, “Nice tomato war, too bad Mr. Harris had to save your white butts.”
I thought they were going to pound us. That is, until they turned around and left. Now that was better than great. The cleanup went fast with all the helpers. The record for number of jars of sauce wasn’t quite broken that day. But when the yellow tomatoes ripened and were canned, it did break the record.
The drive home took no time at all; I guess we were excited and tired at the same time. I told Bart the new kids were named Roger and Ronald. They were twins but they didn’t look the same. They’d played baseball on a team in Illinois before they moved here.
“I asked and they said they’d like to play on our team over summer.”
Bart leaned back and said, “I’d say our outfield just got better.”
We both woke up with a start with the car stopped in the driveway at home. Me and Bart smiled at each other. Jars of sauce ready for another benefit supper season, bullies humiliated, and new players for our baseball team next summer. It was a good day and who knows, there is always tomorrow.