My mom loved tomato sandwiches. A country girl at heart, she called them mater sandwiches. No matter where my dad's naval career took us, Mom always found a place to grow a few vegetables, especially her beloved tomato plants.
When I was five, my dad was stationed in Maine. We lived on an old farmstead, complete with the requisite white farmhouse with black shutters, a barn, a massive oak tree with a tire swing, and a large garden plot next to an apple orchard. Mom and Dad grew vegetables year-round in the garden, but they especially loved the bounty of summertime.
Mom checked on the garden nearly every day. I walked down the rows with her as she pulled weeds and gathered fresh, ripe produce in a basket. When she got to the tomato cages, she judged their readiness by their color and firmness.
"What about this one, Mama?" I asked, pointing to a tomato that still had some green on it.
"That one's not quite ready yet," she said.
I ran down the row. "What about this one?"
Mom hefted the huge red orb in her hand. "Perfect," she said. She pulled the tomato from the vine and brought it to her nose. "Mmmmm... Smell that. Now that's a good tomato."
I sniffed it, catching the scent of dark earth, sunshine, and rain mingled in with the musky aroma of the ripe fruit. To this day, the smell of a tomato fresh from the vine always reminds me of my mom.
"Let's go make a mater sandwich," she said.
Back at the house, I stood on a stool in front of the kitchen sink and carefully washed the tomato, still warm from the sun. Then Mom cut it into thick slices, two for her and one for me, and placed them on Wonder bread - the only bread for making 'mater sandwiches, according to my mom. The slices were so big, I couldn't see the piece of bread beneath it. Then she added salt and pepper and a generous layer of Kraft Miracle Whip.
We sat down at the kitchen table and dug in. The simple flavors of bread, mayo, and fresh ripe tomato left my taste buds tingling.
"This is so good!" she said. Then, as she took another generous bite, tomato juice ran down her chin. We both laughed as she wiped her mouth with a paper towel. "The messier it is, the better it tastes."
She was right.
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