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Lowly Tomato Inspires Grandpa’s Lesson of Love

We set out first thing one morning to check on the ripening fruit.

It was early summer when more and more tomatoes were changing from shades of green to shades of red.

When you are a farmer, there is thankfulness deep inside of you when the growing is almost done and the harvesting is about to begin. You yourself are in the crop, and the crop is in you.

I came across a tomato that was developing a dark, soft spot on its skin. This tomato was much smaller than the other tomatoes on the vine. It was at the bottom of the vine and very nearly touched the ground.

“I’m gonna pick this one and throw it out,” I said. “It has the blight on it.”

“Don’t pick that tomato,” my grandpa responded. “Listen, I want to teach you something about the world. Follow me.”

I followed him. We walked out of the garden and into the work shed at the back of the yard.

That place was a place of wonder to me. Inside of it were Mason jars filled with nuts, bolts, screws and nails. There were all sorts and varieties of tools hanging on the walls.

And at the center of it all were the things I will always remember him by: duct tape, baling wire, WD 40 and aloe.

Not only could these things fix the stalled engine of a tractor, a sputtering faucet in a sink or a dangling clothesline on a pole, but they could also be used in other creative ways.

My grandpa wove a basketball rim out of baling wire and hung it above the door of the shed for me, he used to spray WD 40 on his knees in the early morning to assuage arthritis and help him get around, and he would drop a mixture of aloe and water into my nose to soothe my scratchy throat.

If you are looking for a miracle, find a farmer with those things and you will find one.

“Hey, that tomato is small, broken and at the bottom,” he said once we reached the shed. “But you know what? It could grow into something beautiful if we care for it.”

“Who knows, it might become the tastiest tomato we’ve ever grown,” he said. “So let’s be the ones who don’t throw it out. Let’s be the ones who take it in. Let’s be the ones who care.”

My grandpa carefully cut out a square and two rectangles from some old plastic pieces he stored in the corner of the building. He bound them together with some duct tape and sprayed the edges with WD 40.

With this contraption in hand, we made our way back to the garden and to the small, broken lowly tomato.

He held the tomato in his calloused hands and ever so gently spread aloe over the blighted part.

Skillfully and lovingly, he attached the handmade shelter around the tomato with bailing wire.

“This will protect it from the heat of the sun and keep it off of the ground,” he explained. “This will give it a chance.”

I did learn something about the world that day: The small, the broken and the lowly have intrinsic worth and beauty.

We could throw them away, or we could care for them. And that kind of care could mend a broken world.

Trevor Barton teaches fourth grade and is a member of First Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina. His writings can be found on his blog and you can follow him on Twitter @teachandwrite.