The Spring That Sprung

The movie Secretariat has been release and is out in theaters and I plan to see it this weekend.  There is just something about animal movies that I love.  If you know anything about horse racing, then you know  Secretariat was the triple crown winner in 1973.  Being from Kentucky, I have watched the Kentucky Derby every year.  The Kentucky Derby is a two-week long celebration so if you plan to go, I would advise that you enjoy some of the events leading up to the actual run for the roses.  I haven’t been to the derby yet, but I will get there one day.   Normally I am helping my dad plant tomatoes on Derby Day.

Year after year my dad raised tomatoes so my sister and I could can them.  Before I met LP I would just help Dad with the garden and help my sister can the tomatoes.  I never had any desire to can beans, tomatoes or anything until I met LP.  LP loves tomatoes and tomato juice, so I learned to can and have become very good at it.   We both love the taste of the fresh home-grown tomatoes, so it is very typical for us to preserve several quarts of juice and whole tomatoes each year.  And yes, we use them all.  As a matter of fact, I am afraid we will run out of juice this years because the electric juicer we purchased broke.  Well, it didn’t actually break, but right now it is not usable; but that’s a different story.

For years and years we would plant tomatoes on Derby Day.  I would go to Dad’s early that morning and once I could get him out of his recliner we would go to the garden and plant between seventy to eighty tomato plants.  Dad always dug the holes and once he finished a row, I would go behind him and plant the tomatoes and fertilize them with Miracle Grow.  We would get finished just in time to get cleaned up before the big race.  There would usually be a dozen or more people at Dad’s to watch the Run for the Roses.   And after the race was over, we would grill burgers and hot dogs, then we finished the night off drinking beer and playing high nine.   We had the best time on Derby Day and even though we weren’t actually at the derby, we always had plenty of family and friends to help celebrate.

About two months after the tomatoes had been planted Dad would start checking them every day to see if any had turned red.  It was usually around the 4th of July before they would start getting ripe, and when one of them got ripe, they all started getting ripe.  In the later years, my sister and her husband grew their own garden, so the majority of Dad’s tomatoes were given to me and LP to can.  I love tomatoes, but I hate picking them.  Every year when the tomatoes started getting ripe, LP and I would go to Dad’s house after work day after day and pick tomatoes, and day after day I would fuss about them being planted so close together.  Sometimes I would have to get down on my hands and knees and crawl around the tomato plants just to reach the ripe ones.  It was always hotter than hell on those days and I would come out of the tomato patch sweating, and I would have dirt all over my knees and legs from crawling around on the ground and, of course, I would have green tomato leaf stains all over my clothes.

Once the tomatoes were picked, we had to can them.  Canning is not a difficult process, but it can be very time-consuming if you have very many to can.   Another thing with tomatoes is that you have to can them before they rot, so many afternoons LP and I would work on canning until late at night.  The next day after work, we would do it all over again.  Day after day until all the tomatoes were gone.  We have a pretty good process and we do the same thing each year.  We both wash off the tomatoes, then LP boils them for a minute then places them in a bowl to cool.  Once the tomatoes are cool, I core and peel them and place them in a pot.  LP gets the pot and boils the tomatoes and the puts them in hot jars, tighten the lids and set them aside to seal.  With years of experience now, we have the process down and we can tomatoes pretty quickly.   That is if something doesn’t slow us down.

One year we had picked tomatoes for three days before we had a chance to can them.  I believe we had almost ten bushels of tomatoes and it was Saturday so we had all day to can.  We had so many tomatoes, we filled up every pot, pan and bowl we had.  Some were in boxes on the floor waiting to be washed; some were on the counter in bowls waiting for me to core and peel and some were in pots ready for LP to boil then can.  We worked on these tomatoes all morning and we weren’t even half-finished.  We took a quick-lunch break and started canning again.  I was getting tire and I knew LP was getting tired too because both of us were slowing down.   It was about four thirty that afternoon and we ran out of canning jars.  We still had tomatoes all over the place, so we had to finish them.  It was good for us that we had some extra boxes of jars in the attic, so all we had to do was bring them down and wash them and we would be back in business.

LP reached up to the ceiling and opened the attic door and climbed up the ladder and I followed.  We got four boxes of jars and we came down from the attic.  LP was going back into the kitchen and I was closing the attic door.  I folded the ladder and pushed the door toward ceiling.  It wouldn’t shut completely.  I pulled it down a bit then tried to shut it again.  It wouldn’t shut.  I pulled it all the way down and then pushed it back up and it would not shut.  I repeated this process four or five times and I was and getting a bit frustrated because it wouldn’t shut.   I pulled the door all the way down, extended the ladder and climbed up into the attic to make sure nothing was stopping the door from closing.

It was hotter than hell that day and the heat was pouring out of the attic.  I couldn’t see any reason why the door wouldn’t close, so I went back down the ladder, folded it and push the door up to the ceiling.  All the sudden I heard something that sounded like a gunshot.  The attic door fell open and I had to duck to keep it from hitting me in the head.  LP came running in there to see what was going on.  LP looked at me like, “What did you do now?”  Before LP had a chance to say anything, I said, “I didn’t do anything.  The door wouldn’t shut and all the sudden there was this loud pop and damn door flew open and almost knocked my head off.  And now it’s broke!  But I do anything!”

LP and I were looking at the door and about the same time we discovered what had happened and at the exact moment we both said, “The spring broke.”  Now, I don’t know if you have ever seen a spring on an attic door, but I am here to tell you that this is a HEAVY-DUTY spring and how in the hell it broke I will never know.  LP fooled around with the spring for a few minutes to see if it could be fixed, but it was beyond repair.  Hot air was still pouring from the attic and hundreds of tomatoes are in pots and pans and bowls all over the kitchen and the damn attic door is broken.

At that point, we both had tomato juice all over us and we were hot, tired and very frustrated.  We stood there a few minutes looking at the broken door trying to figure out what options we had.   LP suggested we clean up and go to Lowes and buy a new door.  I insisted that we could not leave the attic door open because the entire house would be like a broiler oven within an hour.  LP agreed, but what other option did we have?  I thought about it for a few more minutes and then I thought of a solution that I knew would work.  I grabbed LP and I said, “Come on.”

On the way out to the back yard I was explaining my idea to LP.  I said, “You know how I save everything?  Well I saved some of the left over 2X4s we used when we laid the attic floor.  I think we can use one to prop the door shut just long enough for us to finish the tomatoes and then we can go to Lowe’s.”  LP said, “That might actually work.  It’s worth a shot anyway.”   We found the longest 2X4 that I had stashed away and brought it back to the house.  When we put it under the attic door, we found it was about seven inches too short.  I ran to the book shelf and grabbed a couple of thick books, a couple of thinner books and a few even thinner books.  I started stacking them on the floor and when we found the right combination of books we placed the 2X4 on top of the stack of books and shut the attic door.  It wasn’t a tight seal, but it worked.

It was about nine o’clock that night when we had finished canning all the tomatoes and when we had the kitchen cleaned up and back in order.  We were both tired and it was getting late, so we decided to wait until the next morning to go to Lowe’s to buy an attic door. That night I was so glad that I was such a pack rat and saved every nail and screw and piece of lumber that we had left over from our jobs around the house.  I was also happy that LP loved to read so much because with the help of the books and that 2X4, we got a good night’s sleep.  We went to Lowe’s the next day and bought a new attic door and put it in that afternoon.  I don’t use the attic door very often, but when I do, I always expect to hear a loud pop.   And still to this day, every time I think about tomatoes I think about Dad, Derby Day and I think about that damn spring breaking on the attic door and LP and I standing there shaking our heads. 😛


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