Memory 3: The Tomato Lady

Sailing in Northport every day of the summer meant driving to Northport too. My mom did this for my brother and me for six summers, God bless her. In the morning, the three of us piled into our Nova, me and Pete in topsiders, cut-offs and tee shirts. Pete wore his striped conductor’s hat that said Lee, and I wore a bandana pulled down to my eyebrows, tied with a square knot in back.

My mom carried our essentials in a canvas bag: bathing suits, towels, iced tea, zinc oxide. Strung around my wrist was my red ditty bag with my yellow comb and a chit book for lunch at the snack bar.

We took 25A east leaving Huntington, going through Centerport and then finally taking the left on Woodbine which turns into Bayview which brings you to the yacht club.

It’s a pretty pleasant drive along 25A, full of long curves because the road hugs the shoreline. I was the younger sister sitting in the back, a little slouched, head tipped back, daydreaming out the window.

My mom always had WABC on and our windows were rolled down as Harry Harrison spun out the tunes: Afternoon Delight, Kung Fu Fighting, Rhinestone Cowboy.

My mom always had WABC on and our windows were rolled down as Harry Harrison spun out the tunes: Afternoon Delight, Kung Fu Fighting, Rhinestone Cowboy.

After sailing lessons and spending hours in the pool, we’d head home. Traveling west in orange light, I’d sit in the back, salt streaked on my legs and Levis, chlorine in my hair, even tanner than yesterday. There was a place on 25A just before Centerport where traffic would always slow in a long line at a traffic light. And there she was. I’d spy her out the back window.

Traveling west in orange light, I’d sit in the back, salt streaked on my legs and Levis, chlorine in my hair, even tanner than yesterday.

She sat still as a gravestone, face wrinkled, red flowers on her big scarf tied below her chin. She was a big woman, and she sat on a beach chair at a wooden hut and sold tomatoes. But not just any tomatoes. Gorgeous, plump, August Long Island tomatoes that she grew out back and that now sat neatly stacked in little wooden baskets.

We’d stop and buy. Just her arm would move as she handed you change. At home, my mother would slice them and they were perfect and we’d put them on our hamburger buns with a little Russian dressing.

Sometimes we’d just say “There she is!” and keep driving because she wasn’t always out. Was she Polish? Probably. Always with the scarf, and she didn’t really communicate in English. She was an enigma because she wasn’t predictable, didn’t talk and was rooted to the ground due to her weight and the fact that she hardly moved. She just sat staring straight ahead as traffic rolled past her all afternoon long.

The light turned green. My mom’s foot switched from the brake to the gas. I turned my head and looked into her face. Who was she? Where did she come from? I was tired from a day in the sun. I kept my eyes on her until the little wooden shack rolled out of sight. What would I do that night? Meet up in Wincoma, drink beer and keep low on the sand when the cops came?

My Eyes Adored You played on the radio. My dad was already gone.

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12 thoughts on “Memory 3: The Tomato Lady

  1. My favorite tune back then: Carl Douglas kung fu fighting. Even in the mid 80’s asking Moby after a few to many to spin it for me so I could get my groove on. I’m glad you’ve got those times to remember. Seemed pretty special. Good work my Blair love e.e.e.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, AM Radio, Summer ’76: Moonlight feels right . . . My whole world turns misty blue . . . We tease him a lot cause we’ve got him on the spot . . .

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So great Blair, you have such vivid stories that I can almost remember the tomato lady myself. Always great to read them my friend!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah yes…… Those delicious plump tomatoes! My mom stopped by there as well! What a small world it is. My son was married to a Kelsey granddaughter and had two children. The shack was on the Kelsey property (although I think the old lady only rented the shack from them) and it still is used today. Every summer they now sell many other veggies as well as some fruit and flowers. In the winter they have a small amount of firewood. I still stop there every summer for tomatoes and corn. I’m sure there will be someone selling summer goods there in the summer for as long as that little shack continues to stand.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Linda, thanks for this, that’s pretty amazing. Love to hear that the little shack lives on… Of course for me, it’s rooted in the past but I’m happy that it’s still there 🙂 Wow!

      Like

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