The great summer of ’65 backyard tomato massacre

It was sometime in the summer of 1965. I don’t precisely know the date or even the month. Let’s just say it was high tomato season. I was five years old. Perhaps predictably, my identical twin brother, Tim, was also five years old. Our cousin, Bobby, born exactly one month after we were, was also, you guessed it, five years old. We loved spending time playing and goofing around with Bobby.

On this fateful day we were in our backyard, but not of our Leaside home on Parkhurst. This was the year before we landed in Leaside. This was our first family home, on Thurston Road, just west of Bayview. Tim and I were in kindergarten at Maurice Cody junior public school on Belsize. So, we lived just outside Leaside’s borders. My co-conspirators and I – you know, Tim and Bobby – would never have attempted such a brazen, senseless act had we lived in Leaside. Such wanton mayhem just didn’t happen in Leaside. But across the border? Well, stuff happened.

It was a Sunday afternoon and our cousin, Bobby, and his family, were visiting from their home near London, Ont., and staying for dinner. While the grown-ups lounged in the living room, Tim, Bobby, and I were playing in the backyard – and I use the term “playing” loosely. I honestly don’t remember how it all started. After all, it was 57 years ago. But I do have a theory. Now I don’t want to throw Bobby under the bus, but remember, he was a month younger and perhaps not quite as mature a five-year-old as Tim and I. So, I’m just going to assume that Bobby was the first to pick one of the dozens of giant, ripe beefsteak tomatoes my mother had lovingly planted, watered, fertilized, nurtured, soothed, serenaded and raised from seed to ready-to-eat. She was about to harvest the entire crop yielding enough tomatoes to make Chef Boyardee’s mouth water.

I was standing near the back of our house when the grapefruit-sized red, ripe tomato smashed into the brick wall just beside me, showering me with tomato shrapnel and enough juice to make me feel waterlogged. I was mad. You might say I saw red. So, I reached for the biggest, ripest tomato I could find and hurled it at Bobby with all the might my five-year-old throwing arm could muster. I missed him…but not our garage, prompting another tomato detonation. Within 15 minutes, Tim, Bobby and I plucked every last one of the dozens of big tomatoes from my mother’s treasured vines and threw them at one another in the most epic backyard battle ever recorded, at least until the invention of the water balloon.

When we ran out of tomatoes, we negotiated an immediate ceasefire. The three of us were completely encased in tomato entrails. Their carcasses stuck to the brick wall at the back of our house and covered the side of our garage. And don’t get me started on how the back lawn looked. It was like the final scene of a teen horror film. It had all happened so fast. We seem to have been entranced or hypnotized by a kind of Lord of the Flies vibe. We completely took leave of our senses. That’s when our mother happened to stick her head out the back door to check on us. Then she completely took leave of her senses.

I honestly do not remember what retribution was in store for us. But I vividly recall the look on her face as she surveyed the carnage splayed and sprayed before her. Yes, that look, etched in her facial features, has stayed with me to this day. And you thought General Norman Schwarzkopf coined the term “shock and awe” during the Gulf War. Nope. I came up with it when I was five-years-old looking into my mother’s crazed eyes as she saw her prized and abundant tomato crop harvested in a most unconventional way. I’m told that, for starters, Tim, Bobby and I spent the next two hours gathering up every last one of those pulverized tomatoes. I must have blotted out the supplementary disciplinary action meted out for the great Summer of ’65 Backyard Tomato Massacre, but I think it involved planting a new crop of replacement tomatoes and being exiled to our bedroom to serve out our sentence with no chance of parole.

Our loving mother eventually laughed about it all…but it took several years, perhaps even a decade.

A two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, Terry Fallis grew up in Leaside and is the award-winning writer of eight national bestsellers. His most recent, Operation Angus, is now in bookstores. You can also subscribe to his newsletter:

About Terry Fallis 86 Articles
A two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, Terry Fallis grew up in Leaside and is the award-winning writer of nine national bestsellers, all published by McClelland & Stewart. His most recent, A New Season, is now in bookstores.