Stories of my past

The Great Tomato Fight of 1957
by Billy Abatecola

Ha…the tomato. That red beautiful delight that is used in making catsup, 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 that started in the fall of 1957.

I was 12 years old and lived in an Italian section of Rhode Island. Most people of that era had large back yard gardens; where every fall the old women would pick and can home grown vegetables.

There were about 12 of us that would hang around and get into trouble by sneaking 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 that we always visited and had our way with the vegetables and fruit that were growing there.

In the winter, we would have these super snowball fights that 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 that 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 still in the tomato patch that she had left behind after picking the best for her canning. She said she would give us 50 cents each. Fifty cents doesn’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, lets get back to the tomato picking.

We were all given small baskets and we went to work. To this day no one has come forward to take the 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 that 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 that was 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 that several of us were sick and threw up. When we got home our parents were so mad at us! I had to take 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”.

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