In Rosemary Wells’ poignant First Tomato, a little girl (rabbit) is having an awful day. Everything goes wrong. And then, magically, she’s transported to the “bunny planet,” where, in one of the world’s most awkward but sweetly endearing rhymes ever, “And the Bunny Queen is Janet.”
After cradling the little girl (bunny) for a while, the Bunny Queen escorts her to a land of eternal summer, where her mother is cooking in the kitchen, and one perfect tomato is ripening in the garden, perfect for First Tomato soup.
I could use a big bowlful of First Tomato soup these days.
And so, fittingly, I spotted my First Tomato, a self-sown volunteer just outside our local bakery:
As far as I can tell, it is the one and only tomato of its kind on any sidewalk of Kiryat Yam. (We don’t live in Kiryat Yam, but still spend a lot of time there, given that it’s three minutes away.)
How can I be sure it’s a tomato???
Well, how do I recognize my own children when I see them in the street?
(Okay, sometimes I don’t – and I have the hardest time picking out Elisheva in a class of 20 girls with long, flowing brown hair!)
Also, I went up to it, rubbed the leaves and even tore off a bit. (That’s how I pick out my children from a lineup as well.)
If I could have nibbled it, I would have (as with all nightshade family vegetables, tomato leaves are toxic - beware!) – the smell was at once so familiar and so distant, a message from some far-off bunny planet.
A bunny planet where I grew tomatoes. A bunny planet where I could pinch and prune and tend my tomatoes to my heart’s content (and sometimes beyond). I think every oleh must have a bunny planet – somewhere they miss, that exists for them now only in fantasy in the midst of their saddest, loneliest and darkest days.