The car is packed, the engine's running and the family is ready to leave for vacation. Except that the driver is missing.
I've left the car for one last look at the garden.
VTC "But you just checked your plants!" my wife says.
That was an hour ago, I say. Gardens grow quickly in summertime. So I race toward the vegetable patch in search of a fat green tomato that appeared to be ripening only moments earlier. Alas, the tomato is no redder than before. My hopes sink. It's a 2-pounder, easily the largest on the vine. If I don't pluck it now, the tomato surely will ripen in my absence, fall to the ground and rot -- a tragic end for such a majestic fruit.
L Do I pick the green tomato or leave it for the garden slugs?
Such are the worries of vacation-bound gardeners.
We spend many long months coddling flowers and vegetables, then abandon them in summer when the plants need us most. Despite our best intentions, family vacations usually coincide with critical periods of some plant's life.
I feel guilty about this. I imagine my plants dying in a drought or succumbing to insects and weeds while I'm off at the mountains or beach.
Of course, gardeners do their best to prevent such disasters. We water our plants right up to departure, mulch heavily and yank every doggone weed in sight. My garden never looks so good as when I leave town.
Would that it looked the same on my return.
Finding someone to harvest their crops is another headache for vacationing gardeners. Before I leave, I raid the vegetable patch, picking even the tiniest beans and squash. On trips, we take as much of our produce as possible. Why stop at roadside stands? We could sell veggies from the trunk of our car.
Still, with no one to patrol the garden at home, I worry the remaining veggies will grow to monstrous size, a signal for the plants to slow or even stop production for the summer.
A close friend or neighbor may tend the garden, particularly if he's allowed to keep the goodies. There is only so much a friend will do, however. Don't suggest that he weed the garden, and never ask him to squash garden slugs.
Normally, I deputize my neighbor Angelo in my absence. Angelo is a master gardener; he would tend my big green tomato. He might even make it grow bigger.
Angelo knows all kinds of tricks for vacationing gardeners. For instance, he takes the potted plants off his patio and buries them in the ground, container and all. The soil serves as insulation and keeps the plants from drying out.
I would ask Angelo to guard my tomato, but Angelo is out of town this week.
So I stand in the garden, pondering the fate of my fat green friend.
The sound of a car horn pierces the air. The gang is getting restless. It's time to make a choice. But first, I try to coax the tomato into blushing.
"C'mon, you can do it!" I shout as if cheering a racehorse toward victory. Except that this is a tomato I'm yelling at, and it isn't moving. Nor is it turning red.
Am I forgetting something? Heat! Of course, tomatoes like it hot! I move closer to the fruit and begin breathing on it in short, frantic gasps. This strategy lasts about 30 seconds. It gives me a headache. Besides, I sound like I'm about to deliver a baby, not a tomato.
The horn toots again, a longer blast this time. What to do? I reckon I'll leave the tomato here. We'll be back in a week. There's a chance the tomato will wait for us. I pat it, ever so gently.
"Hang on, big guy," I say.
I hope it follows orders.
Disappointed, I approach the car. My wife is in the driver's seat, which means I'm in the doghouse.
"What were you doing?" she asks.
Briefly, I consider telling the truth. But who would understand? The Styrofoam cooler on the back seat is already full of veggies I insisted on bringing. Why all this concern for a single tomato?
So I lie.
"Had to go to the bathroom," I say absently.
She stares at me suspiciously.
"In the garden?"