These are not the best tomatoes that I have ever grown. They're not the biggest, reddest, or sweetest. Nor are they the most flavoursome. They are, however, the tomatoes that have given me the greatest satisfaction.
These are the first tomatoes that I've picked from our Kitchen Garden since the January floods. Grown on bushes replanted by friends in the first terrible week after the destruction of our home and garden, they now allow me to say once more, "I have a kitchen garden," instead of, "I used to have a kitchen garden."
There are so many things to which I now must say, "I used to have..."
:: I used to have a beautiful home.
:: I used to have a collection of Asian textiles.
:: I used to have beautiful Japanese antique furniture.
:: I used to have a lovely garden filled with flowers and trees.
Before the floods we lived in a home that we had lovingly restored and decorated. We had it just as we liked it - warm, comforting and peaceful. We had book-lined walls, soft, welcoming sofas and carefully selected Asian antique furniture. Our collection of textiles covered beds, sofas and chairs. Piles of woolen blankets were available for snuggling into before the open fire, where we toasted marshmallows and sourdough toast, which we ate dripping with butter and Vegemite. Our life was pretty good.
We loved entertaining. We had a great guest bedroom, and we really enjoyed having friends to stay and making them feel special. We would lounge around on deckchairs by our swimming pool reading books and talking and eating and drinking champagne. We would eat Thai curries and talk until late into the night. I liked that.
We spent our holidays overseas. Japan was our favourite destination, and we spent much of our time purchasing the finishing touches for our home. Japanese pottery, lacquer and textiles. Tableware and soft furnishings. That and eating. We always chose our destinations for their cuisine and aesthetics. Shallow, maybe, but true.
I used to have a life like that. I used to love that life.
It is now fourteen weeks since the flood. People have begin asking us if life is back to normal, of our home looks different with 'all the new furniture'. They ask us how work is going. They clearly have no idea.
So what is our life like post flood? How can I explain to them? How can I explain to you?
First, the house. Before you read any further, take a look around the room that you're sitting in right now. Imagine your own home. Now, imagine that anything that is in the bottom foot or so has been damaged or destroyed. What has gone? What has been destroyed? What would you replace, and what is irreplacable?
In our case, the list of damaged or destroyed includes the following:
:: Kitchen, bathroom and laundry cabinets
:: Fridge, dishwasher, washing machine and dryer
:: Tables, chairs, sofas, chairs, coffee tables, cupboards and bookshelves
:: Beds, bedside tables, wardrobes (including all of the fittings in our walk-in-robe)
:: Rugs and fitted carpets and our wooden kitchen floor
:: Laundry and bathroom tiles are cracked and lifting
:: Skirting boards and the bottom foot or so of all the walls
:: The surface of all wooden furniture
:: Most of our photographs, seven filing cabinets of personal memorabilia
:: Most of my textiles
:: Most of Jemimah's toys - dolls clothes, barbie dolls and all the dress-ups
Now imagine how you would go about replacing it. Bear in mind that there is no insurance money, and you still have a mortgage. And then factor in 11 weeks with no income. Where would you start? Think of the plastering, the warped walls, the damaged cabinetry, the floors.
Now think of the holes in the walls letting in locusts, spiders and mice. Don't forget the moulds and the damp and the slugs. Think of the floors all going mouldy each week or so and having to completely clear the room to mop it and cover it with layers of bleach. Imagine the smells. Consider the health hazard.
Now ask us if life is back to normal. Of course it is not!! We have borrowed beds, and Ikea bedside tables instead of our lovingly collected originals. We have donated rugs on marine plywood or rough concrete floors. Our guest room is filled with boxes, only we have to move them each week, or the mould begins to grow.
Sometimes I wonder who I am. I go shopping and pick up the sort of things I was looking at 'BF' - 'Before the Floods'. Then I put them down again. What use is a new set of lovely orange linen table napkins when I don't have a table? Do I really need new sheets when I don't have a bed? What's the point in purchasing two hundred daffodil bulbs when there is nothing else to accompany them? Do I need a Japanese maru obi when I don't have a table to display it on?
I find myself gravitating to magazines like English Country Living, with its cozy comfy traditional English decor instead of the sparse Japanese style magazines I've always prefered, simply, I think, because I need comfort and warmth and security. I find myself crocheting and knitting for the same reason. I find our diets have changed. We are eating more processed foods - white bread instead of sourdoughs and grains; cornflakes instead of homemade muesli, stews and pastas instead of stirfries and grills. Pies, crumbles and puddings. Once again, I can only guess that it is the need for comfort, for familiarity, for warmth.
Our friends planted thirteen tomato bushes in our kitchen garden after the floods, but only two have fruited. February is really a little late for toms in our Central Victorian climate. When the tomatoes began to grow I thought that they wouldn't redden up, but I was wrong. These three are only the beginning - more are on their way. They give me great satisfaction. Once more I can boast that our kitchen garden is producing rocket and coriander and silverbeet and lettuces and cucumbers and tomatoes. Every day I pick leaves of our own plants for salads.
Now I can pick tomatoes again. That feels better than you can ever imagine. It feels normal. And it makes me feel like me. Just for a little while, life is good.
I have a kitchen garden.