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The “miracle mater”

If your Labor Day travels take you near Des Arc, you might want to go down on Main Street and check out what Harvey Joe Sanner is calling the “miracle mater.”

“Nature can produce some amazing sights, and one of those sights is a tomato plant growing out of a brick wall,” Harvey Joe reports. “In a narrow space between T.J.’s Kountry Kitchen and Garth’s Hardware Store, the plant is approximately four feet off the ground with no visible reason for it to be growing there. Yet it seems to be thriving. This ‘miracle mater’ has captured the attention of several diners at T.J.’s, who have monitored its growth since it first appeared. As time passed, it began to bear tomatoes. Currently, there are four ripe tomatoes and 10 green ones. The tomatoes are of the samller variety that us older folks refer to as Tommy Toes. Similar varieties may be called cherry tomatoes or salad tomatoes.”

The Tommy Toe is an heirloom tomato from the Ozarks that’s famous for its flavor. Tommy Toes often bear the most fruit in September. Harvey Joe says the Ozark heritage might explain how the plant can survive growing out of a brick wall.

“The plant appears to be very healthy,” he says. “In fact, it looks better than most of the tomatoes growing in rich soil this year, perhaps because it’s out of reach of the flood rains and plant diseases. Regardless of how it got there or how it continues to produce fruit from what seems to be an impossible location, it has generated quite a bit of conversation among the customers at T.J.’s. That has provided some relief from the normal topics of baseball, football, farming and the all-time generator of hot air, politics. Anyone smart enough to explain why and how this tomato is doing what it’s doing might be wise enough to solve the health care reform debate. Nature is truly a wondrous thing.”

I take a special interest in this plant because the building that houses the hardware store was built by my grandfather, W.J. Caskey, in the early 1900s. It has housed a hardware store for almost a century. My grandfather owned both the hardware store and the adjacent funeral home (a common combination in Arkansas farming communities in those days). He also purchased an old streetcar in Little Rock and put it on Main Street in Des Arc as a diner. Walking with him to the hardware store and hearing people greet him as Judge Caskey (he had once been the Prairie County judge) made him seem like one of the most important men in the world to me as a small boy.

My grandfather, who died in the hot summer of 1980 at the age of 96, was also a prolific gardener. He had a green thumb, and his garden was always a site to behold. I can assure you he would be pleased to know a tomato plant is coming out of the brick wall of that building.

What’s your best fruit or vegetable story? The joys of reading weekly newspapers in Arkansas include looking at the photos of people who have brought strange-looking or especially large items from their garden to the newspaper office — a sweet potato that looks like Abe Lincoln or a cucumber shaped like the Liberty Bell.

Thanks for the story, Harvey Joe. I have to go to Searcy on Sunday. I might just run by Des Arc to check out your “miracle mater.” 

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