(Listen to the piece is S2E7 of the podcast)
Clara kicked her boots through the dry earth, sending a dust cloud flying directly at her older sister Rosa’s back.
“Stop Clara!” Rosa yelled, head swiveling back to stare at her little sister menacingly.
“I don’t want to be here,” Clara moaned, dropping her head to sulk.
“Today is an important day,” her grandfather declared, smoker’s rasp in his deep voice, drinker’s pouch for a belly. “It’s time you girls learn about tomatoes.”
The vast Mississippi Delta in front of them was filled with rows of brown and green speckled with ruby red ripe tomatoes. Worders made their way through the fields all around them plucking and stripping tomatoes from the vine, tossing them gently into bins.
“I’m ready!” Rosa declared, arm shooting up as if waiting to be called upon.
“But abuelo,” Clara pouted little legs hurrying to keep up, “I don’t like tomatoes.”
Her grandfather grunted. Her sister turned to shake her head in shame. How could a Hernandez not like tomatoes? How could a Mexican not like “los tomates”? The family tried to bury this shame with extra spoonfuls of salsa verde, but the girl shunned tomatillos. They mounted pico de gallo atop homemade tacos de cameron and the little girl refused to eat. They tried sliced tomatoes in gringo-style salads or stewed down into soups or vinegared or pickled or fried or sauteed but nothing her parents did could made their niñita eat tomatoes of any form.
“So she’ll starve,” her mother said.
“Send her to papá,” her father said.
So they did. Shipped their little Clara along with her big sister Rosa off from Tejas to rural Arkansas where all the family had settled and farmed so that the little girl could come to appreciate tomato’s divinity.
“Ven pa’ca!” Her grandfather said, stooping down over a row of the ripe fruit. He picked a firm, bring orb from the vine and took a big bite. Rosa grabbed her own tomato unprompted, and ate hers like an apple. Seeing Rosa’s hesitancy, their grandfather picked one for her and proffered it.
“Cómetelo,” abuelo said, urging her to eat the tomato. “One bite and you’ll fall in love.” Her sister smacked her tomato-juice laden lips in exaggeration, just staring at her.
But Clara shook her head. Love a tomato? She highly doubted it.