All I Need to Know of Heaven

By Lynn Ingram

It is momentous.

Cause for celebration, for shouting from the rooftops.

It is, very possibly, one of the reasons that life is worth living.

The first tomatoes have ripened on my vines.

And what that means – oh, be still my quivering heart – is the first tomato sandwich is soon to be consumed.

I feel faint with desire.

With apologies to lovers past, no bed business that I can remember conjures up anything like comparable anticipation.

These tomatoes have been ceremonially plucked, tenderly and gingerly, and placed, somewhat on the order of a shrine, upon my kitchen window sill. There, they have been duly and appropriately admired, awaiting the shining moment when my knife slits their ruby red skin into slices of juicy heaven.

In preparation for the Great First Tomato Sandwich Event, I have done two things: One, I have bought a fresh loaf of white bread, without which the making of a tomato sandwich is impossible. Oh, yes, usually I am eating good whole wheat bread, which I acknowledge is more nutritious and better for me in a myriad of ways and hasn’t been bleached to death. But the idea of trying to make a sandwich with that healthy brown stuff is beyond travesty, quite close to mortal sin. It simply cannot be done.

Two, I have made a date with my friend Nina, and she will be arriving shortly to participate in the Immaculate Consumption.

I could make my own tomato sandwich right here in my own kitchen, right by myself, but I am sure I would go straight to Hell if I failed to share my bounty with the one person who I am certain wholly appreciates the treasure that has grown in my back yard.

How do I know that Nina is this person?

Because when I called her one day last summer, the first thing she told me was that she was eating a tomato sandwich.

And standing over the kitchen sink to do it.

There is no other way to eat a tomato sandwich.

When Nina arrives, we shall each select two slices from the loaf of white bread, and we will spread just the right amount of mayonnaise, according to our personal preferences, onto that white bread. We shall then reverently slice those beautiful red globes onto that mayonnaise-covered bread, salt and pepper the tomato slices, and ascend into Heaven. There will be no sitting and eating, no table setting or plates required. There will be sandwiches in the trembling hands of women leaning over the kitchen sink. There will be biting into what surely was the manna God delivered to the Israelites. There will be rivulets of pink tomato-mayonnaise juice dribbling down chins.

There will be “tomatogasms.”

Thank God I have a double sink.

On our sandwiches, we will spread Miracle Whip. Some people insist on Duke’s mayonnaise or Hellmann’s. From those people, I can live with – and happily ignore – the comments about Miracle Whip being – horrors, salad dressing – and not real mayonnaise.

I grew up with Miracle Whip. I was over 30 before I knew it wasn’t actual mayonnaise, and I learned that from a little book by Marilyn Schwartz called How to be a Real Southern Belle. Schwartz pointed out that real Belles insist on homemade mayonnaise, but that Hellmann’s would do in a pinch. Other Southerners I know offer to come to blows in their defense of Duke’s as the only mayonnaise worth crossing their lips. I have displaced Southern friends in Montana who have paid hundreds of dollars to have Duke’s shipped to them.

I, however, will mount the same defense for my Miracle Whip. Marilyn Schwartz and the Hellmann’s and Duke’s aficionados can kiss my country-girl-who-grew-up-beside-a-cotton-field proudly redneck behind.

Miracle Whip is what I grew up with. Growing up with a thing trumps anybody else’s idea of what is proper. At least half the pleasure of eating the season’s first tomato sandwich comes from the memories evoked of all the other such sandwiches. As good as those childhood sandwiches were, these later-life sandwiches are better, seasoned as they are with all those accumulated memories.

Not to mention their rarity.

We country girls took all those early tomato sandwiches for granted. We had backyard gardens where tomatoes ripened in abundance. Tomato sandwiches were available any day of the week, several times a day if one was so inclined.

We had no idea of the richness and abundance with which we lived.

We learned, however, the value of that which we had taken for granted as we grew up and moved to cities and other soul-killing places where backyard gardens don’t exist, where honest tomato sandwiches and other true things fall by the wayside. Grocery store tomatoes – those poor mealy pink imposters – cannot make a tomato sandwich worthy of the name.

The tomatoes destined for mine and Nina’s tomato sandwiches today have come from the first garden I have had in more than 20 years. It has occurred to me to hoist the flag and call for a national holiday. But Nina has arrived, and all that to-do would unnecessarily and cruelly delay the oral gratification we are about to enjoy.

Nina has brought me a gift, a slender and elegant knife made purely for slicing tomatoes. It does its job beautifully, and perfect red slices slide delicately onto the plate.

Nina draws a reverent breath.

“Can I smell it?” she asks.

“Of course,” I reply, as we both inhale that unequalled homegrown aroma.

Then, speaking to the tomato itself, which makes perfect sense to me, Nina says, “Oh, you are so pretty! I bet your mama is so proud of you.”

Indeed, I think, although I make no reply. None is really necessary – or possible at the moment, because the Great Tomato Sandwich Consumption has begun.

Amen, and amen.

About this writer

  • Lynn Ingram Lynn Ingram would rather dance than eat three times a day – unless it’s steamed oysters that are being served. Lynn works as a clinical psychologist and part-time instructor in the psychology department at UNCW. Either or both of those jobs might account for why she recently tried to change the TV channel with her cell phone instead of the remote.

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