Augustime Ramblings (2017 Edition)

I am 48 years old. And counting. Growing up we had a good-sized vegetable garden in our backyard. Both of my grandmothers had vegetable gardens as well. My initial foray into slightly higher education was two years at Lon Morris Junior College (Go Bearkats!) in Jacksonville, Texas, where they have had “Tomato Fest” for 33 years. And counting. Here’s my point: somehow I have walked this spinning orb for 48 years without ever once having a tomato sandwich. I know. I know. Yes. I share your confusion and dismay.

While I know Father and Mother Hoke did the best they could with what they had to work with, a tomato-sandwich-less upbringing seems neglectful-ish. Not quite enough to call CPS, but enough to get ‘em in your phone’s contacts list.

My First Tomato Sandwich

And it’s not even my not personally eating tomato sandwiches that really puzzles me—I was a kid and kids in general and me included tend to be picky, finicky, and unpredictable in terms of what they deem edible and gastronomically repugnant—it is the lack of any memory of any Hoke (and Father Hoke most especially) leaning over the sink with a handful of tomato sandwich and elbows dripping with tomato sandwich gloryjuice that has me wondering what happened. We had tomatoes in the garden. We had Wonder Bread in the cupboard. We had mayo in the fridge (though—okay—it was most likely Miracle Whip and not real mayonnaise). Again I ask: what happened?

Not so long ago over in the not so far away land of Facebook my friend Denise Williams shared an article from The Bitter Southerner titled “How to Make and Eat a Tomato Sandwich.” Denise asked for feedback on how others built their respective tomato sandwiches and a whole bunch of folks weighed in while I—in my ignorance—sat wondering “Tomato sandwich? Is that a thing?” Denise and Jefferson Ross (friend and capital S Southerner) offered some suggestions on what my initial experience should include: ripe tomato (from your own yard is best, roadside stand or farmer’s market is second, store bought is a distant third and you’re probably better off not pursuing this avenue at all for there lies disappointment beneath the fluorescent lighting), white bread (toasted or not according to the eater’s preference), mayonnaise (Denise favors Hellman’s while Jefferson is devoted to Duke’s), and a generous sprinkling of salt-n-pepper. Done. Dine. Link to the article here if you’re curious: How to Make and Eat a Tomato Sandwich

When I arrived home from work that evening I was full of hope and expectations. I lay out a cutting board and cut two thick slices from the big heirloom tomato that had been sitting, waiting, on the counter all day. I popped two slices of white bread (boosted from the kitchen at work because Mrs. Hoke and I are multigrain types) into the toaster while I slathered Duke’s on two untoasted slices. Jefferson had advised that untoasted would be messier and offer up the “Full Euodora” experience so that’s where I started. I positioned my tomato slice just so and hit it with several generous cranks from both our salt and pepper mill. Fully assembled tomato sandwich in hand, I moved to the sink…

Gospel Brunch. Me & Samantha

I am guessing a common cultural experience for most Americans (and every person reading these words) is “The Wizard of Oz.” I remember watching it on our big Zenith as a kid. Did it, in fact, come on every year? It feels like it did. My first bite of my first ever tomato sandwich was similar to that scene in “The Wizard of Oz” wherein Dorothy emerges from her house in Oz and steps out of her black-and-white existence into a technicolored wonderland. Similar to that, yes, but with mayo and tomato juice dripping from my elbows into the sink. It was a mouthful of summer. Simple. Messy. Perfect.

Since that first sandwich I have gone back to using the multigrain hippie bread we always have in our breadbox and “Just Mayo.” I tried a small bottle of Sriracha Mayo and will likely do that again next summer because it was some serious good. For the rest of this tomato season I’ll happily content myself with plain mayo thickly slathered, multigrain lightly toasted, tomato thickly sliced, and salt-n-pepper generously dusted. Simple. Messy. Perfect.

Summer is waning. The mornings are cooler in our little town and the days are ever shorter. I am trying to take advantage of these warm days while we still have them. After my running and swimming in Texas back in June I came home and started running on the trails around Bent Creek and finishing with a swim in Lake Powhatan. Post-swim I sit on my well-worn Mexican blanket and look up at the sky, out at the mountains, and down to the light reflecting on the lake’s rippling surface. Most days there are kids splashing and laughing in the water. Aristotle said “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” and I reckon he was right. Is right.

Lake Powhatan

“If you’re ever in Houston you better do right; you better not gamble, you better not fight.”  --Midnight Special by Leadbelly

I don’t have any observations or insights about the flooding in and around Houston. Plenty of folks smarter than me are sharing their reactions to the storm, anyhow. For my part, I was born and grew up in Conroe—about 30 miles north of Houston (Exit 87 on I-45). Father and Mother Hoke had an old tree topple to the ground in their backyard but it missed the house and they don’t expect to be flooded. I don’t reckon many folks “expect” to be flooded. Houston is so very big—it is hard to imagine the time it’s going to take to come back from this amount of damage. Mrs. Hoke and I have donated some money to relief efforts and I’d encourage everyone everywhere to pitch in whatever you can afford. Here are a bunch of worthy options right here: Help If You Can

Tomato Sandwiches and Hurricanes. Summertime, indeed.

Jenny Reynolds and me and Kelli Redmond

I’ve got a bunch of friends in/around Houston and was reading an account one wrote about trying to get to a grocery store to re-stock their pantry as the waters rose. “Everything was fine” she wrote, “until it wasn’t.” There’s an epitaph for the ages, right there. My friend and her family are okay, by the way. I do know a couple of folks who were awakened in the middle of the night with instructions to evacuate and all those folks are okay. Their homes and possessions may or may not be. Everything was fine. Until it wasn’t.

Mrs. Hoke and I are currently working on buying a house closer to our little town’s downtown. We’re “under contract” and everything’s moving ahead on schedule, more or less. This, of course, is because Mrs. Hoke is doing most of the real work around this venture. You likely guessed that yourself without even thinking much about it. When we lived in Austin (and Baltimore before that) we were always within walking distance of stuff we wanted to walk to and that’s never been the case since we’ve lived in North Carolina. I don’t like having my activities dependent on turning an ignition key. So this is a “quality of life” move—absolutely—because this new place (hereafter referred to as “The House”) is mere blocks from Main Street and all it offers. It’s even closer to the VFW if I get an urge to play bingo on a Wednesday night. And our little town’s greenway (The Oklawaha Greenway) upon which I do most of my running—that, too will be a few blocks away from our front door. Or our back door. Depending on which door one uses, of course.

Oklawaha Greenway

We weren’t looking for a house when I found this one. Not at all. I recently devised a new running route that happened to take me by The House and I noticed it right off because it looks sort of funky in a way that appeals to me and my tastes and then one day there was a For Sale sign out front so I took Mrs. Hoke by to look at it and she recognized the location was what we’d been wanting all along (there’s a reason we’re still married—see?) so we discussed it and reflected on how much of a hassle moving is and agreed that that was no reason to not do it. So we’re packing our stuff into boxes, anticipating the best (and donating a fair amount of stuff to thrift stores because we have more than we need and/or want, really). When I send out a note in September we should be done because closing is set for 9/13.

Another summer evening—the sun is slowly sinking

Heat rising off the pavement warps and bends the air

I can smell somebody’s barbecue and spy the first star of the evening

The birds all fall silent as the moon begins to rise

I wrote that sitting on the front stoop of a duplex at 43rd and G in Austin. I remember Mrs. Hoke commenting that she liked it because it was a multi-sensory depiction of a day fading into night. Nice compliment, that.

Summer is waning, friends, and too soon the cicadas will cease their buzz and whine but for now—for today—I will enjoy their racket. I will eat tomato sandwiches.

Thanks for reading this thing. Thatisall.


Antonio September 01, 2017 @01:36 am
Yeah, yeah, yeah! Thank you for the smile! I'm wearing it now. Great story and engaging presentation. I admire and am entertained by your thinking and your writing. Your statement "everything was fine until it wasn't" presents the truth! Thank you, buddy! I hope to see you soon. Your pal, Houston Antoine "You don't until you do"! Somebody said that.
Daniel Boling August 31, 2017 @11:49 pm
Hell yea!
Jazz Jaeschke August 31, 2017 @07:34 pm
Guess I'm gonna have to have a tomato sandwich next year when the vines produce - I'll follow your trend with something other than plain white bread! The essential ingredient, natch, is a Gary-grown-in-yard Celebrity. Yum! (BTW - purple onion sandwiches are quite good ... but not as much messy fun as you make out the tomato ones to be.)
Liz - the elderly one August 31, 2017 @07:08 pm
I do love your Ramblings, Todd Hoke. They paint the most wonderful pictures, and I hear your voice speaking the words.
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