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Rook, Tomato Wars, and Childhood Memories

Have you ever really thought how truly blessed we are that God allows us to keep some of our most special memories close to our hearts? Memories which have this power of turning a "not so good day adult day" into one where these remembrances will bring an abundance of smiles, outbursts of laughter...healing.

The walls were of a canary bird yellow and it was the size of a modern day laundry room in some homes. A white refrigerator stood close to the opening into the living room and there was just enough room between the refrigerator and the wall to hide a big bag of Purina dog food in the corner–out of the eyesight of “company”, my Mama said. And we had a strategic plan in place in case the refrigerator door and oven door had to be opened at the same time. Timing was everything. There in the kitchen was a glossy chrome gray table, banded together with the biggest of screws. And the matching metal chairs were adorned with vinyl gold seats. Vintage, they call them now.

On top of the refrigerator–always sat Daddy’s radio. Much happened in our family kitchen, seated around the table. The radio was always on and it seemed like there was a friendly game of Rook with Daddy and Mama’s friends over almost every Friday and Saturday night. And us young-un’s were never allowed to play–only watch. That is until my youngest brother couldn’t keep a secret and either yelled out my Daddy had the “bird” or his smile became too big for his face. And then we were summoned to the living room or our rooms to play or go to bed. Either way we were shown the door out--unwillingly.

On this one particular summer night I was sitting between my Mama and Daddy at the chrome table facing the living room. The competition had gotten somewhat hot, or maybe it was the lack of a breeze blowing–we had no air conditioner. My brother had just gotten out of the bathtub and was strutting into the kitchen bare chested with only his white underwear shining, when all of a sudden, it appeared–horror slithering out from under the refrigerator.

“Snake! Snake!!” I screamed standing in the chair pointing at the floor. My brother thought it was another joke on him until he almost stepped on this black creature from the lagoon. Daddy jumped up, knocking over a chair in killer mode while Mama got this worried look on her face. 'Law me, they (our company) will think I have the dirtiest house,' she said later that night, after the calm.

Daddy’s battery-operated AM radio equipped with this silver pull-out antenna–the length and depth of a ripe hickory switch sat high on top of the refrigerator so us kids couldn’t change his channel. And out of that box played songs from the likes of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire, Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors, Hank Williams’ Your Cheatin’ Heart, and Mama Tried by Merle Haggard. Seems like me and my brothers could relate more to the Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash songs. Mama was always trying and well, the ring of fire...

As my brothers and I aged, we were given the privilege to start staying at home by ourselves in the summer rather than staying at our grandparents while Daddy and Mama were at work. And we were expected to finish the chores on our list before they got home. On this one memorable day Mama had written tomatoes in bold letters–the instructions said, 'Gather the tomatoes in the garden and wash them. Lay them out on the counter to dry.'

And me, the oldest with two younger brothers–I was always the boss–until I wasn’t. I can’t remember how or why the argument started or who even threw the first tomato. But, within minutes half the tomatoes were running down the walls like they were bleeding–tomato seeds sticking wherever they landed. And to our horror when we finally came to what little senses we had at the moment, we looked at the clock and it was close to quitting time–the 3:30 work whistle blew right on time where Mama and Daddy worked. Their arrival time in Rock Creek–no later than 4--and here we were frantically washing walls, mopping the floor, and cleaning ourselves--trying hard to beat a moving train.

Our family couldn’t have any more snakes crawling out–especially on Rook night so my Mama decided a few weeks later she would clean behind the refrigerator, again. And then it happened. Mama discovered the crime scene--tiny tomato seeds stuck in the faint of red color still remaining on our kitchen's yellow walls. In our rushing around after the tomato war, along with our infinite wisdom--my brothers and I forgot to clean behind the refrigerator. Our little yellow kitchen quickly became an integration room and my brothers and I began retelling 'the story'. Confessing our sins, or at least two of us were. 'Mama, this is what happened. No, what happened was. It was his fault. No, she started it. I didn't throw any. We didn't throw that many.'

Then Mama said the words we heard so many times during our childhood, ‘Wait until your Daddy gets home. You can tell him your story –Thus the ring of fire.

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