Kathleen Anderson’s Story Shows Why Details Matter

by Memoir Mentor on March 8, 2010

Writing books tell you it’s all in the details. It’s true. We make our stories more vivid, compelling–and real–with descriptions that include concrete, specific details. “I noticed a dented, blue Chevy parked in the driveway” is more interesting than “I noticed an old car in the driveway.” Or how about  spiffing up “I waited an hour at the restaurant before my brother finally arrived” with something like “I read  today’s Los Angeles Times and refilled my coffee cup twice before my brother  finally showed his sorry face.”

Pull your readers into your world with tangible details. Give them something to see, hear, smell, feel, and even taste. This week’s story, written by Kathleen Anderson, does just that. Notice all the sense details she uses to draw you into the world of tomato gardening.

First Tomatoes of Summer
Kathleen Anderson

 Kathleen AndersonWhen the soil warmed after the cold of winter, my father and mother marshaled my sister, Noreen, and my brother, John, and me into the storage area to prepare for spring planting. We would gather up hoes and shovels and rakes and begin to undo Jack Frost’s hold on the dirt. The fun quickly disappeared when we struggled to turn the soil over. To my eight-year-old mind, all this work was ridiculous. I could just dig a small hole and put the puny seed inside, add some water, pat the dirt on top, and wait for a plant to sprout. 

The job did get done, mostly by our parents. As we worked alongside each other, Dad entertained us with stories about tending his parents’ farm in Roscommon, Ireland, when he was a boy. Mother told us about her small farm in Kerry, Ireland, where poor, rocky soil produced meager harvests despite all their hard labor. In this way, my parents passed on family history to their children.

The plants grew, slowly it seemed. Most of the time I forgot they were there in the part of our back yard that was devoted to the garden, an area of about fourteen feet square. Peas, green beans, Swiss chard, turnips, potatoes were lovingly nurtured by my father. Corn, tomatoes, gooseberries slowly ripened in the warming spring sun, encouraged by rain and fertilizer. When reminded enough times, we would get out and do the weeding.

Then came the day the tomato plants sprouted little yellow flowers. This is what made the garden chores worthwhile. We zealously checked the progress. Soon small green buds appeared. Now we kids checked every day for bugs that would destroy this soon-to-be round, red juicy bulb. I delighted in flipping the little green hookworms off my precious vegetables. I calculated how far I could make them fly, trying to outdo Noreen and John.

Soon the tomatoes were large enough to cup in my hand. They were firm, bright red, promising delicious treats. I would inhale the smell emanating from the leaves, savoring the scent.  

Then came the Sunday we had all waited for. Daddy went to the garden, walked carefully through the tomato patch, looking for the ripest lovelies. tomatoesOne by one he put them in the bowl Mom had brought out from the kitchen. We watched, eagerly awaiting what was to come.
        
The five of us marched into the house, up the stairs to the kitchen. Mom washed the vegetables in the sink under the running water. Noreen opened the fresh loaf of Wonder Bread. I found the salad dressing on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Daddy stood by the kitchen table sharpening the big black-handled knife. John watched. After drying the tomatoes gently, Mom placed them on the middle of the table and the ritual began. The first plate was selected and the tomato was slowly cut, releasing its perfumed juices into the room. 
           
Two pieces of bread were laid out and spread with the creamy dressing. Then one red tomato slice was laid on top, followed by another, and a sandwich was made. Five had to be made before any could be touched. It seemed to take forever. 
           
When the five plates were ready, we sat down at the table, said the blessing, and slowly bit into the soft white bread, into the tomato, and sighed with contentment. Second servings disappeared quickly. Soon we pushed back our chairs, our stomachs full. This was our special Sunday dinner, a ritual performed every spring when tomatoes ripened.