My father, the inspiration behind this story
A moving piece I wrote for my Sustainable Gastronomy class:
When I was 7-years old the fence of our backyard was covered in mint. The mint bushes grew tall and abundant, their fragrance perfuming every inch of the perimeter around the fence. One day I discovered you could actually eat the leaves. Papi said, “Es menta. Cómete una.” He encouraged me to try it because it would refresh my breath.
Hesitantly, I plucked a leaf from the nearest plant, carefully inspected it, and put the tip in my mouth. The smell of the mint assaulted my nostrils and urged me to take a bite. My teeth pierced the leaf and my tongue swirled it around my mouth.
“Hmmm,” I thought. The mint in my mouth felt like breeze cooling my tongue. I loved it!
For the rest of the summer, I plucked mint leaves every time I walked by the fence. Sometimes I would leap out of our little frog-shaped pool and run to grab a mint leaf. I would call out to my brothers and sister to come try it. Then we’d walk back to the swimming pool munching on mint and leaving our wet footprints on the sidewalk.
That was the summer I discovered tomatoes. My dad would spend countless hours in the sun pruning and staking his tomato plants. When the tomatoes finally ripened they were bright red with a hint of orange.
My father would pick them right before dinner and I was his little helper. Trailing behind him, I would carry big round ripe tomatoes which seemed enormous in my small hands. Afterwards, we would sit at the dinner table and he would serve fresh slices on each of our dinner plates. The tomatoes were sweet and juicy, elevating our humble dinner of rice, beans and meat to gourmet status.
When I think of my childhood I always go back to mint and tomatoes. Unbelievably, my father grew both in our tiny patch of backyard that was situated between two brick houses. A cook, a farmer and a lover of the land, my father instilled in me precious values that tied my urban childhood to the Puerto Rican farms he grew up in.
Every summer when I plant tomatoes, I know my father’s legacy lives on.