by Billy Abatecola
Ahhh…the tomato. The red beautiful delight used in making ketchup, pasta gravy, pizza sauce, found in salads, on top of sandwiches, and in many other culinary dishes.
This story is about that wonderful, delicious regal fruit, the tomato. It started a chain of events in the fall of 1957.
I was 12 years old and lived in an Italian section of Rhode Island. Most people of the era had large backyard gardens; where every fall the old women would pick and can homegrown vegetables.
There were about 12 of us who would hang around and get into trouble sneak into these gardens and eat the fruit and vegetables while they were still growing on the vines or on the trees. There was one garden we always visited and had our way with the vegetables and fruit growing there.
In the winter, we would have these super snowball fights. They would last all day long. We would all work together to build a large snow fort, sometimes 6-8 feet high with four walls and a large supply of snowballs. Then we would choose up sides and one team would protect the fort against the other team. Then we would attack the fort. We would use garbage-can-lids as shields and have very definite rules to follow. For example, if you got hit in the chest or the back of the head you were out of the fight. If you got hit in the arm or the leg you were demoted to snowball maker.
Well, one warm day in early October, we were hanging out at our favorite snowball fight field. My friend Tommy’s grandmother asked us if we would like to make some money by picking up all the rejected tomatoes she had left behind still in the tomato patch after picking the best for her canning. She said she would give us 50 cents each. Fifty cents don’t seem like a lot of money now, but in 1957 it meant a Saturday afternoon movie, a soda, and a big box of popcorn. Well, let’s get back to the tomato picking.
We all had small baskets and we went to work. To this day no one has come forward to take responsibility or blame for what happened next. It came out of nowhere like a red fiery ball of snow “splat” a direct hit to the back of Tommy’s head. We stopped and decided we should have a tomato fight. We built a fort out of cardboard boxes, old boards, doors, a couple of hay bails, and a hood from a 1949 Chevy. We chose up sides and gathered up all the ripe and rotten tomatoes we could find. Then the battle was on.
I was on the team outside the fort and had tomatoes stuffed in every pocket and my shield was a garbage-can-cover. The tomatoes were hurled back forth like a siege at Fort McHenry. Tomatoes were thrown with precise aim and many found their mark: heads, arms, back, legs, butts, and a few other places. After about THREE hours of fighting the war was over, there was a sea of red, ripe, rotten tomatoes all over the battlefield. All of us were covered in red rotten tomato juice and pulp. We stunk! The smell was so bad, several of us were sick and threw up. When we got home our parents were so mad at us! I took off my clothes and my dad made my older brother, John, wash me off with the garden hose. We all smelt like tomatoes for about 2 weeks. But what a fight, it was better than all the snowball fights we ever had.
When we get together now someone will always bring up the great tomato fight of 1957. To this day I am unable to eat a raw tomato. I like tomato gravy, sauce for pasta, and pizza, but no raw tomatoes will ever be on my salad or sandwich.
Thanks for listening to my story of “The Great Tomato Fight of 1957”.