My father, as I've mentioned here many times, is a pretty amazing guy. He grew up on a hardscrabble dairy farm, getting up before the sun so that he could milk cows before going off to grade school. Then when he was 17 his parents signed permission for him to join the Navy and he was off to load torpedoes on the U.S.S.Richmond. He worked his way through college with the help of the GI Bill, married my mother and co-raised five children, then earned his doctorate while he building a vocational college into an industry leader. Today he spends his time in volunteer work while he's not off winning gold medals in Senior Olympics swimming competitions.
That's why we weren't really surprised when he was asked to throw out the opening pitch at a national baseball tournament. It was senior citizen recognition night, and let's face it, there aren't many 87-year-olds who can get the ball over the plate. He had plenty of people who loved him cheering as he walked out to the pitcher's mound, took his wind-up and let fly.
Taking into account the senior citizen discount (one bounce) Dad's pitch was straight over the plate and into the glove of the whippersnapper catcher who bounded out to congratulate my father.
It took Dad about 10 minutes to get back to his seat behind home plate. Fans stopped him to shake his hand and to congratulate him, and he heaved a sigh of relief as he sat down. That's when one fan stepped up beside him and handed him a plastic bag containing three perfect homegrown tomatoes.
"Sir, I want to thank you for fighting for our freedom," the man told my father.
I'm not sure what this man had planned to do with those tomatoes when he arrived at the ballpark; it's not as if a farmer's market was likely to spontaneously erupt in the bullpen. But what an apt tribute to the essence of my father's life. Homegrown tomatoes are the gardener's reward for the hard work that produces a successful garden.
My father has worked hard. He will say he's been blessed by God, and he's not wrong about that, but each of those blessings has been accompanied by sweat equity. Any recognition he receives now is a nod to the decades of time and effort he has invested.
I can't think of a more fitting reward than a perfect homegrown tomato.