Starting Point
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Issue Date:  November 5, 2004

Starting Point


My tomatoes had the blight this summer. It began just as they were turning red, appearing at the bottom of the tomato and then moving upward as it ripened. The farmers, whose fields of wheat, corn and beans were also affected, said that this spring’s cool, wet weather caused the blight. They’re right, of course, but my nurturing instinct -- I couldn’t stop myself from tenderly watering the plants every day -- didn’t help.

The blighted tomato crop reminded me of my mother when we had catastrophes on our farm: the hailstorm that destroyed our crops or the day our cows got into the young corn and ate too much, their bellies bloated beyond help.

My mother would throw her apron over her head, cry for a few minutes and then emerge ready for action. She sent for the veterinarian to put the cows out of their misery. She told the children to collect buckets of hailstones and used it to make ice cream.

Taking a cue from my mother, I began picking the damaged tomatoes and even some green ones and hid them in brown paper bags where they could fully ripen. Once ripe and the bad parts cut out, they made delicious sauces and stews. In late August, the ground dried up, the sun returned and the remaining tomatoes ripened quickly and blight free.

Though grateful for the perfect tomatoes, I loved my damaged ones. They reminded me of the women of the world who’ve lost their gardens, often their only means of survival. I remember the women of Darfur, Sudan, who have been driven from their homes, their gardens destroyed by the Janjaweed; the women of Iraq who can’t plant gardens because of terrorist attacks and land mines, the women of Palestine separated from their gardens by high, government-built walls.

I pray the day will soon come when all women, once again, can plant their gardens in peace.

Dominican Sr. Lois Spear, who is retired and lives in Adrian, Mich., is the author of God Is with You, Prayers from Men in Prison, St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2002.

National Catholic Reporter, November 5, 2004

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