Growin’ Tumaters in Rural Iowa

A friend of mine by the name of Deke Solomon asked me to post a story he has written. I don’t know how true it is, but knowing Deke, I reckon there’s a lot of truth in what you are about to read. So here it is.


Growin’ Tumaters in Rural Iowa


Last spring I went into a farm & home store an’ got me a big ol’ stoneware crock. It was one of about fifty on a display rack. They was all round. They was all sandy brown, an’ they was all replicas of the same original. Each of ’em bore the same trademark: under the glaze in big, blue letters, “Howard Smythe 1839” lent an air of bogus antiquity to the things. They was all of a size, too. Ever one of ’em looked like it’d hold about five gallons o’ whatever I wanted to fill it with.

On my way to the checkout, my imagination went to work. My mind’s eye saw the crock in my cart fill up with potting soil an’ vermiculite an’ about a gallon o’ sand. It was out on my sunny, south lawn, an’ it looked real prosperous with a six-foot, Brandywine tumater stickin’ straight up out the top of it. In fact, it looked so good sittin’ there that I went back and loaded two more of the things in my cart. Then I went to the checkout an’ from there to my car.

When I got home, Landlady watched me unload. Them phony antiques caught her eye just as they’d caught mine. She asked, “You bought three o’ them things?”

“Well, I guess there’s three of ’em,” I said. “I counted ’em on one hand about a dozen times, an’ ever’ time I count ’em I awlus got two fingers left when I’m done. Why you wanna know?”

“I need one fer mah bizness!” she sassed. Then she cleeked one o’ my crocks an’ ran off around the corner of the house. I don’t know where she hid the thing, but I do know I couldn’t find it noplace.

So I made use of the two she’d left me. I set a Brandywine in one of ’em, just like I planned. The second crock hosted one o’ Radiator Charley’s famous Mortgage Lifters. I never have any luck with Radiator Charley, but I keep tryin’ ‘cuz Charley’s big, deeply orange tumaters awlus show so pretty when I see ’em at farmers’ markets. They look bold, an’ thick slices taste delicious served on a plate with a mound of large-curd cottage cheese on the side. Top all that with a little salt an’ pepper. . . . Enough o’ that, I guess.

Today is July tenth, an’ I’m here to tell the world that I finally found my third crock—the one that Landlady swiped back in March. It showed up on our picnic table ‘cuz Landlady had a bunch of her silly friends over for a cookout on July eighth.

The meal was char-broiled chicken ‘longside mustard greens wilted with sowbelly an’ scallions an’ a little Creole seasoning. I served it with my own cornbread and my ma’s tater salad. (I stole the recipe after Ma died a few years ago, an’ I never share it with anybody.) We had some o’ Landlady’s good deviled eggs, too, an’ they was homemade vanilla ice cream, an’ Landlady built a pineapple upside-down cake that she’ll probly regret for all eternity. She capped her feast when she set my stolen crock on the table, filled it almost level full of iced tea, an’ put a dipper in it so’s her guests could help their selves.

Landlady’s guests were the women’s auxiliary from the local chapter of the American Legion. Whoopee! What a bunch of nasty ol’ hens they are. I listened while the flock sat and ate an’ cackled about everyone in town they didn’t like an’ why they didn’t like ’em. Near as I can figger, not one of ’em likes anybody in town but her own self. They don’t even seem to like each other.

Most of the food was left over after the first half-hour. “We got to watch our weight!” was the unanimous apology. In their favor was the fact that they did gobble the chicken, an’ my tater salad disappeared like magic. (I never knowed anybody could pass that up.) So I took the bowl in the house an’ refilled it from a bigger bowl I had stashed in the ‘fridge.

I carried the small bowl back out to the picnic just in time to hear one o’ them evil hogs — the local preacher’s wife — remark on Landlady’s queen-sized crock of iced tea. She evidently hoped to show us stupid in front of the others by pretendin’ to believe that crock was a genuine antique.

“How old is it, really?” she smirked.

So I played her game. I had a story handy, an’ I tole it: “Well, you can see that crock was made in 1839. Who owned it first? I haven’t a clue. Fam’ly tradition says my great, great, great, great grampa Elmore acquired it in 1846—that was the year of Iowa statehood, ya know. Story is that Elmore kep the crock in his bedroom for forty years. Ever mornin’ when he got up an’ ever night afore bed he drained his bladder into that thing. Once a week, then, he took it out in the yard an’ dumped it on the vegitubble garden.

“When Elmore died, he s’posedly left the crock to his oldest son, Allan, who shared it with his wife ‘n’ kids. Ever mornin’ an’ ever night, they all stood in line waitin’ to use that crock. Bein’s how they was six of ’em, I s’pose Allan had to dump it more often than Elmore did. Still an’ all, it did ’em good service an’ they took good care of it. Look it over you’ll notice there ain’t a mark on the thing.

“So it stayed in our fam’ly down through the years. When it finally came to me, I put it in the garden shed an’ kep it there. Now I’m in a pickle ‘cuz I found two replicas of it at the farm & home store a few months ago. Landlady set my two replicas in the shed with the heirloom. They’s all identical an’ I cain’t tell ’em apart. I used two of ’em to set tumaters in. You can see ’em out there on the south lawn. The third one is right here in front of you. You been drinkin’ out of it right along, so I s’pose I got to tell you I got no idea which crock is which. That one on the table could be Grampa Elmore’s crock, or it could be one o’ them new ones I got at the store. It’s anybody’s guess.”

They all turned kind o’ greenish like, an’ thanked me for the meal. Then they made excuses an’ split muy rápido, as the Mexicans say. I got no earthly idea why the preacher’s wife stood up an’ jiggled her fat arse down to the end of the table, where she sat down on a freestandin’ bench. ‘Parently, Mrs. Preacher didn’t notice the pineapple upside-down cake that Landlady had put—right-side up—on a sheet pan before she set the sheet pan on the flat top of that bench so’s to make more room on the table.

Preacher’s wife stood up a lot quicker than she’d set down but still, by the time she scraped the pineapple jelly off her two-acre backside, two of her friends – in their rush to leave – crashed their cars together an’ locked bumpers over on the driveway. Then one of ‘em, still tryin to get away, gunned her engine an’ ripped the front bumper off the other’s car. Both cars had plenny o’ paint damage by that time. The one lost her bumper grabbed a cell phone an’ called the cops.

Many years ago I used to read a motorcycle magazine. The editor awlus maintained that “There is no human situation so mizzerble that it cannot be made worse by the presence of a policeman.” I believed him then, and now I have proof that truer words was never spoke.

Four sheriff’s deputies showed up in two cars ‘bout fifteen minutes after the woman made that call. The women was still in the driveway. They was yellin’ an’ shriekin’ an’ callin’ names an’ pointin’ fingers at me an’ at each other.

One o’ the deputies came over and asked me what was the matter. I didn’t get to answer, though, ‘cuz just then he spotted a rusty ol’ pickup, a derelict, parked out back of the house. He noticed in pertic’lar that it was missin’ a headlight bucket. It was missin’ a lot of other things too, but the headlight seemed like the only thing he was worried about.

Next thing, he asked me for my driver’s license. I gave it to him. He went to his car, got on his radio, an’ ran my numbers. When he came back he handcuffed me and said he had to run me in.

“What for?” sez I.

The deputy said: “That there truck has a headlight out. Isn’t that the same truck you was drivin’ in Kansas when you was ticketed six years ago fer havin’ a headlight out?”

“No Sir,” I said. “I was drivin’ a Freightliner when I was ticketed in Kansas six years ago for havin’ a headlight out. An’ I did go to court. An’ I did pay a forty-dollar fine. I paid the fine with a U.S. Postal money order, an’ I still got the numbered stub to show if ya wanna see it. Surely you don’t believe a man’d drive a nice truck like that one to a shit-hole like Kansas! Do ya?

“You might also notice that there pickup ain’t no Freightliner. It’s a Ford. It’s parked there ‘cuz it don’t run no more. It ain’t been plated in seven years an’ it only hangs around here ‘cuz the nearest junkyard is thirty miles away. It don’t run so it cain’t drive itseff to the junkyard. I cain’t drive it neither, an’ I don’t wanna pay to have it towed.”

“Well,” said the deputy, “Kansas wants you for failure to appear on that headlight violation. Yer gonna haffta come with us ‘til you get that mess straightened out.”

So now I’m in jail until Kansas forgives me fer sumpin’ I didn’t do. If I wanna get out sooner, I haffta post a $5,000.00 bond ‘cuz I bought three crocks at a farm & home store, ‘cuz Landlady had a picnic dinner for some of the stupidest people I ever met in the world, an’ ‘cuz a derelict Ford pickup behind our house has a headlight out.

Landlady came in to see me this mornin’. She brought me a big plate-load o’ city-ham sandwiches. Deputies grabbed the sandwiches straight off, said they’d check ‘em for contraband and bring ‘em right back. I knew better, but what’s a guy to do?

Landlady told me that the car with no bumper is still blockin’ our driveway. She said she complained to the sheriff about the car before she came in the cell block to see me. She also said ol’ Pineapple Butt is gonna sue us for wreckin’ her ugly gingham dress, which she swears is a Ralph Lauren original.

When the deputies came back with Landlady’s plate, they had mustard and mayonnaise all over their faces and they were lickin’ their fingers while they said “Them sandwiches was real good!” an’ they sure were sorry ‘cuz sheriff said there’s nothin’ they can do about the wrecked car on our driveway.

A couple hours later, I laid down for my afternoon nap. I tried then but couldn’t imagine where Ralph Lauren found enough ugly gingham to make a dress for a model with a butt as big as that preacher’s wife got.

Mrs. Preacher’s threatened lawsuit is the only good news out of the whole thing. I’ll be distappointed if she don’t sue, ‘cuz I wanna be at the trial in case the judge orders her to drop her panties an’ hike up her dress so the court can see all the pineapple scars she’s got on her big, fat behind. I’d gladly spend five years in Kansas if only I could see that happen.

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