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8.20.2011

THE GREAT TOMATO CAPER

I told you a few days ago about Eddie, my 87 year old neighbor, who lives diagonal across the intersection from me(View From The Corner).  From my front window I can see his house - his comings and goings, whether his curtains are open or closed, if he's in the garage in a lawn chair watching tv, raking his lawn, or if the garage door is all the way open/a bit open for the cat to come and go/or completely closed.  Eddie has two very large vining tomato plants on the side of his house.  He is proud of those tomatoes as his dad used to grow about 100 plants every season and sell the tomatoes to local grocery stores.  Just the other evening, while I was sitting on the front step, I saw his son take Eddie's picture while he stood proudly in front of his huge tomato plants.  I thought about how much his son must love him.  How he wanted to capture in a picture something that is definitively his dad.  Standing in my living room one Friday evening recently I saw two boys - about 9 years old - walking down the sidewalk by Eddie's house.  Very quickly they ran into Eddie's yard, stole a couple of tomatoes and then sprinted down the sidewalk past my house.  Something came over me.  Those were Eddie's tomatoes - his pride and joy.  His wife had gone to a nursing home this winter and I just couldn't stand the thought of another loss for him - even if it was only tomatoes.  I ran out the front door and hollered a half block down toward the direction of the boys who were still running, "Hey guys!  Please come back here!" I said, half thinking there was no way in hell they would listen.  To my amazement they halted and turned around, pointed at each other as if to say, "Are you talking to us?".  I said it again - not yelling in anger, but being very direct without harshness, "Boys, come back here please."   In disbelief I stood there as they slowly walked to my yard.  What kids in the culture we live in listen to a random adult they don't know.  This was interesting, telling even - they must be decent boys with parents or a parent who taught them some good things.  They were startled and unsure.  "Boys, I saw what you did, what you took from that house that wasn't yours.  Did you take tomatoes from that yard?" I asked.  They blinked, looked at each other then down at their shoes.  "He did it," the one said as he pointed to the other.  I asked them a few other questions like, "How many did you take?  Did you drop them when you ran and I called you back?".  They had taken two tomatoes and in fear of me stopping them, had dropped them before coming into my yard.  I thanked them for being honest with me and explained that Eddie was 87 years old, a great old man who they would love.  I told them they needed to go back and apologize to Eddie for taking something that wasn't theirs.  "He will forgive you," I said to them, confident in the wisdom and grace that Eddie possessed.  Again, they blinked in sheer disbelief of what I was asking them to do.  They hesitated as I said, "Go on, I will stand here and watch you."  They walked tentatively across the street to Eddie's door kind of shoving each other to the door ahead of the other.  They knocked, but Eddie didn't answer.  I walked across the street and stood by them in case Eddie did open the door.  After knocking again, with no response, they seemed relieved when he didn't come to the door.  They were good boys.  They were just boys being boys - mischievously stealing tomatoes.  They were boys that I was impressed with for listening, doing what I asked and genuinely seeming sorry.  I told them again that taking things that don't belong to them is not right.  I told them what a cool man Eddie was, how old he was and how much they would like him.  I asked them if they would ever go into his yard to destroy or steal anything.  "No," they said looking at me with 9 year old eyes who knew they were getting off a bit easier without having to face Eddie.  I love kids.  I found these boys refreshing for owning their behavior when faced with it by a total stranger.  "My name is Nancy," I said to them. "I live right there. Boys, I am proud of you for being responsible and willing to say you were sorry.  You will be great men some day because that is a mark of a good, good man."  They smiled.  "Now, when you are walking or riding your bikes by my house, please be sure to stop and say hi," I said finishing off my speech with a hand bump to Wesley and his tomato caper partner.  A couple days later I was out running.  There was Wesley walking down the street with his sister.  A smile broke out on his face as I got nearer.  "Hi!", he said like I was his friend.  I panted a big hi back.  Later that night on my nightly walk with my husband, both Wesley and his tomato caper buddy were out walking.  When they saw me they both smiled and waved.  It seems that some truth, grace and a dose of love started a relationship with two 9 year old tomato caper boys. 

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