Granny and the tomato

One of my biggest regrets involves my granny and a tomato.

Georgia Cleota Snyder Baird, or Cleo, but really just Granny, is the only great-grandparent I can really remember. We’d go visit her a lot, driving up to her little trailer in Mountain City, Tennessee, right over the North Carolina border. She had a big apple tree in her front yard, a homemade zipline up the hill and a old, falling-apart wood barn down the road.

(A side story: We had a birthday party in that barn one year, and I remember my dad’s horrified face as we balanced the cake on a pile of hay and then lit candles on top of it all. Nothing went up in flames, but it was a memorable Baird family “there but for the grace of God go I” moment.)

This particular trip to Granny’s was a summertime visit. I can’t remember why we’d gone up, but I do remember my parents, my sister and I sitting around Granny’s kitchen table shortly after we’d gotten in. The sun was shining; the napkin holder and Texas Pete hot sauce were in the middle of the table; all was right with the world. Granny wasn’t sitting, mainly because she was fixing us something to eat, but also because Granny just didn’t sit much.

She put a hot can of Sprite in front of me and asked if I needed any ice for it. I told her no, I didn’t mind hot soda. She grinned, her eyes almost disappearing into her face like they always did.

“You’re just like your granny, then,” she said — music to my people-pleasing ears.

She kept puttering, and we kept talking, and then she set down a plate with a home-grown tomato, sliced and sprinkled with a little salt, right in front of me.

I may have been a people pleaser, but I hated tomatoes. Even home-grown ones. Even ones given proudly to me by my granny.

I felt that panic in my stomach that you get when you’re a little kid and every wrong move feels like it could be the end of the world. I stared at that tomato. I had to eat it. I had to show Granny that we were just alike, that we loved hot Sprite and summer tomatoes. But I wasn’t sure I’d be able to choke it down.

(Okay, so maybe I was a dramatic kid.)

As I looked up from my plate, I made eye contact with my dad, who must have seen the worry and impending tears on my face.

(I was also a crier. I was probably not a fun kid to be around.)

Granny’s back was turned, and she was still talking. In one quick move, my dad reached his fork across the table, speared that tomato and popped it, whole, into his mouth. My eyes as big as saucers, I mouthed a grateful “thank you” to him before Granny turned back around.

Crisis averted.

He didn’t make fun of me then, but he always laughs his big guffaw laugh when he retells the story. Pressley was crying over a tomato! Pressley thought Granny would be mad at her! Pressley wouldn’t dare just try something new! To this day, he’ll still widen his eyes, fake a weepy look and mock-whisper “thank you” to me and dissolve into laughter. In my family, you don’t let things go, and you don’t live down embarrassment.

I think about that day and that tomato and my granny a lot. She died when I was in high school, but I wish I could go back and sit at her kitchen table. I just want to eat that tomato and tell her how delicious it is.

Yes, I now like tomatoes. I’ll still drink hot Sprite, too. And I cry a lot less than I used to. (Well, mostly.)