The great tomato war


Sometimes, when the autumn breeze blows just right and seasonal smells waft through the air, my thoughts are transported back to the days when I was a kid, and I can see myself settling down in front of the TV at the house on Pleasant Street to watch college football following an afternoon of playing or working outside.

On the right day, I can feel my face flush a bit when I remember how my face and ears would tingle as my body adjusted to the warmer temperature inside all those years ago. And for a moment, I feel like kid, wrapped in the safety and serenity of the love that pervaded our home.

Maybe that’s why, when the weather and timing are right, I will open all the doors to my garage, plop down in my late grandmother’s recliner parked in front of my garage television, and let the weather and college football wash all the hustle and bustle of life away.

I really can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon, unless my sons are beside me sharing the moment.

We haven’t had many of those perfect Saturday afternoons this fall. Two Sundays ago the family and I went to a Cincinnati Bengals game and we were literally dripping with sweat by the time we reached our seats. Six days later, Saturday was wet, and it felt like winter was settling in.

Anway, not long ago, I was in the midst of a conversation when one of those Pleasant Street autumn memories came to mind.

We were active little fellas in those youthful days of the 1970s, always looking for some way or another to have a little fun and burn some energy. If a little mischief came along with it, well, that just made it all the more exciting.

I can’t remember exactly how it all happened, but we were likely in the middle of a backyard football game when the ball bounded over a fence at the back end of our property and into a neighboring field. For many years, the field had been used to grow various produce, maybe flowers, too, for what was then Jean’s Flowers in Hillsboro. But for some reason, this particular year the half acre or so field was planted completely in tomatoes. It was about this time of year, maybe a week or two earlier. Many of the tomatoes had already rotted, and it was obvious, at least to a bunch of teenage kids, that nobody was going to do anything with them.

I suppose that whoever went after the football saw all those tomatoes, grabbed one as he picked up the football, and walked back toward the rest of us. Then, when he got within range, rather than tossing the football to someone, he chucked a half-rotten tomato. In the blink of an eye, a tomato war was on.

Adjacent to the fence in our back yard was the neighbor’s two-story barn. In fact, one end of the fence ended where the back of the barn began, and the tomato patch was behind both of them. In those days, the barn, with a basketball court in the loft, served primarily as a play area for the boys in our neighborhood. While we mostly played basketball there, especially on rainy or cold days, it was used for several other purposes, and on this day it became a fort.

There were six of us boys on hand that day. So, with an endless amount of ammunition available, three of us headed into the barn with a load of tomatoes, the other three stayed outside, and our little shootout began. There were plenty of windows and doors in the barn, which made it perfect for one team to fire out of, and the other team to fire into when a target presented itself.

Now, I don’t know how many of you ever been in a tomato fight. But for a teenage boy — at least the kind we were — there is a great amount of satisfaction that can be derived from watching a half-rotten tomato you threw splat against one of your buddies. It beats the heck out of any snowball fight.

Other than loads of laughter and the overwhelming smell of smashed tomatoes, I don’t remember a lot about the fight. But I do remember taking a peek out one of the upper levels windows to see where the enemy was, and getting smacked squarely in the side of my head with a very large and half-rotten tomato.

The barn was only a few yards from our house, and I suppose our parents heard the ruckus, saw what were doing, and put an end to the tomato war before we completely painted the white barn in tomato red.

I remember a feeling of disappointment when the battle came to an end, and trudging to the house to clean up, covered from head to toe in tomato juice, carrying with me an odor I never smelled before or since.

Ah, the smells of autumn.

Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522.

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist Gilliland Staff columnist

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