"Mom. I don't know why Uncle Buford and Aunt Kayla always show up for dinner. Why don't they just stay at home?"
"Shush, they'll hear you."
"But I don't like them. They're embarrassing. Uncle Buford always wears the same overalls and Aunt Kayla talks too loud. They're always putting down the city. If they don't like it here why do they always come for dinner?"
"Ashley, if you don't show some respect, you can just stay in your room all night."
"But Mom…I was going to meet Nicole at the mall later."
"Then I suggest you stop your complaining and act nice."
Buford was the older brother of Brian Delahanty, the lucky brother, the brother who inherited the farm in the rural Riverlands. Abe Delahanty, Brian and Buford's father, was nothing if not traditional. He didn't want to dilute the ownership of the farm by splitting it in two, and since Buford was the oldest, he was the heir to the two hundred acres of prime farmland that had been in the family for six generations. Brian knew at an early age he needed to make his own place in the world so he sought an education and moved to the city.
The Riverlands was a fertile area of plowed fields and ample water from the streams that started from the runoff in the Mountainlands. The Mountainland people were small in stature with white blond hair and eyes the color of the sky whereas the Riverland people were strong and solid with black thick hair and dark skin, traits that helped with the hard work of the fields and farm life. Everyone knew that Mountainland people were lazy and stupid and to be avoided at all times. They didn't tend to crops or raise cattle, they built factories and made clothes and shoes and cheap toys.
Cropland City, located at the mouth of the Big River, was the largest city in the Riverlands. Most of the people who lived in the city were descendants of the farming folk. Their ancestors had been kicked off the farm and they had to make a living doing something else. City dwellers were educated and the city economy was one of technology and improvements to society. They built roads, skyscrapers, transportation systems, and educated the young. Medical services were provided free of charge to all, both city folk and country folk, with the services for the country folk subsidized by the city. The population of the city flourished and now the number of city folk exceeded that of the country dwellers.
Brian Delahanty specialized in the hybridization and development of edible plants. He developed a strain of tomatoes that was large, hearty, and provided most of the nutrients necessary to sustain human life. The tomato was seen by most people in the city as the answer to hunger and famine. What made the new tomatoes even more exciting was that they could be grown anywhere, in poor soil or cold weather, and survived in times of drought or flood. The only drawback that Brian could not overcome was the color. The new tomatoes were yellow.
The farmers of the Riverlands prided themselves on the beautiful red tomatoes that had been grown for generations. The tomato was the symbol of rural life, and it was red. A deep red, a true red, and each spring tomatoes were judged at the fair on how they measured up to the correct color and size. Yellow tomatoes were ugly and misshapen. They were not perfect spheres and the color was wrong. The yellow color varied from a bright hue like that of the sun to a yellow-green color like the bile that comes up after a long night at the bar.
What made yellow tomatoes special was the taste. A good fresh red tomato was a pleasure to eat but a yellow tomato had a taste that was sinful. A slice of yellow tomato would send taste buds soaring into the heavens and people would eat until their stomachs were swollen. No need for fancy desserts or fat laden sauces for meat; the simple sliced yellow tomato was what people craved. Because yellow tomatoes were low in calories and high in nutrients, they were also the answer to many health problems. Obesity declined as well as heart-related diseases and diabetes.
Linda added two plates at the table for Buford and Kayla. Her brother-in-law and his wife were showing up regularly for dinner, it seemed, and even if she didn't care for them that much, they were family. Who would have thought that Brian would be the successful brother? The royalties from the yellow tomato sales had made Brian wealthy while Buford's farm income was slowly declining. The red tomato, once supreme, was slowly becoming obsolete and Buford would need to change the way he farmed if he wanted to survive. He needed to change his crop. He needed to grow yellow tomatoes.
"By God Linda, you set a pretty table," Buford said as he sat down to dinner.
"Why thank you, Buford," Linda said with a smile. Buford had always been handsome and the hard life of the farm had not broken his looks but made him better looking in a rugged Marlboro man way.
Linda set a plate of sliced yellow tomatoes on the table and then sat down next to Brian.
"You can just take those off," Buford said.
"Come on Buford," Brian said. "You know they're better than the red ones. Everyone is eating them now. You need to learn to change with the times."
"I'll stay loyal to the red tomatoes. It's our way of life and what makes the Riverlands great. I'll never grow those yellow abominations or let any piece of them touch my lips."
"Let's don't talk about tomatoes," Kayla said. "I want to forget about farming and tomatoes for a little bit."
"Okay, that sounds good," Linda said.
"Yellow tomatoes taste so much better," Ashley said. "I just don't understand how you can eat the red ones."
"Ashley, be respectful," Linda scolded.
"But Mom, red tomatoes are disgusting."
Buford's face was turning a bright shade of crimson as he stood from the table.
"Young lady, those damn yellow tomatoes are ruining your grandfather's farm. They're taking away a way of life that we have had for centuries and I'm ashamed that my brother is the traitor that developed them."
"Come on Buford, you don't mean that," Kayla said with a calming voice.
Buford sat down and stayed quiet.
"What do you guys think about that crazy farmer from Redville running for Riverlands leader?" Brian asked as he scooped some mashed potatoes on his plate.
"He's not crazy," Buford said. "He's a successful farmer and I'm supporting him."
"But he wants to outlaw the consumption of yellow tomatoes. Why would anyone do that?" Brian said.
"Because they're not Riverlands. Riverlands is red, not yellow. And those damn light-eyed Mountainland people have started growing yellow tomatoes. We need to ban all imports of tomatoes from the Mountainland people."
"The Mountainland people are using new techniques and growing the tomatoes in greater quantities. You could do that as well," Brian said.
"No. We're not going to change the way we do things. It's our way, the old way, and we aren't going to start doing things the way of the lazy Mountainland people."
"But you'll need to change to survive. The world moves on and you have to move with it or become obsolete," Brian said.
"Not if our man Lumpkin becomes Leader. He is going to bring back our prosperity", Buford said smugly,
"And exactly how is he going to do that?" Brian asked.
"Ban your damn yellow tomatoes and kick out all white-haired blue-eyed Mountainland people from this great land."
"I have some blue-eyed friends and they're nice, I don't want them to go," Ashley said.
"Girl, you shouldn't associate with such trash," Buford said.
"That's enough," Linda said. "I'll have none of this hateful talk at my table."
The dinner conversation settled down into a discussion of the old farmhouse and roof problems. Grandpa Delahanty was rather creative in his roof construction with gables and angles and Buford had almost become a roofer because of all the time he spent with repairs.
They said their goodbyes and Brian gave Buford and Kayla a lift to the high-speed rail station. The government had extended the city high-speed rail to all parts of the Riverlands to allow for transportation from the rural communities to the city. The farmlands provided food and now many of the country people could commute into the city for employment. The city, with its emphasis on technology, was becoming prosperous and needed workers for the expanding industries.
Buford and Kayla lived close enough to walk to the high-speed rail station. They had a farm truck but to drive to the city would require tolls and gasoline. The high-speed rail was free.
Brian worried about his brother. He knew the frequent dinner visits were not just because his brother wanted to see him. His brother and sister-in-law were hungry. The farm was struggling and money was scarce. The past few years had brought drought, and when it did rain, floods. Buford's crops had been wiped out before harvest and he had not recovered from the loss. Brian would like to help him financially but Buford was too proud. He was the older brother, the lucky brother, the brother who inherited the farm, and he wanted nothing to do with Brian's money.
Buford was not alone in his plight. In fact, most of the countryside was struggling. Times were bleak with no recovery in sight and these proud people did not know what to do to survive.
That's why Lumpkin was so successful in the rural areas of the Riverlands. Large in stature, he had thick dark hair that he wore long and tied in the back, the traditional way of the farmers. His eyes were coal black and if he looked at you, he kept your gaze with a laser intensity. He commanded attention with the charisma of a leader and inspired devotion with only a look. His message to farmers was hope. Hope to return to the past. Hope of prosperity. Hope for the future.
The farmers were not well educated and didn't understand that what Lumpkin promised was unrealistic and impossible. To them, he was a savior. When he became Leader, the good times would return. He would kick out all of the Mountainland people and red tomatoes would again be profitable.
Brian hoped someone as clueless as Lumpkin would never be Leader. How could he? He was totally unprepared for any of the challenges that came with the job. He had no experience with anything but farming.
The city candidate for leader was Reginald Fitzpatrick. Reggie, as everyone in the city called him, was descended from one of the founding members of Cropland City. He had worked in elected office since he graduated from the upper academy, following in the footsteps of his father, and his grandfather before him. Reggie's family was a Riverland institution and Reggie had been groomed for the job of Leader since birth. But no one really liked Reggie. Reggie was distant and always held his head up and looked down his nose at other people. He had a weak fish handshake, pale olive skin, and a distinct pot belly. He was capable, of that everyone agreed, but he was just not likable.
The two candidates campaigned for Leader. Lumpkin in the country where he would draw large crowds of farmers who would bring barbeque, hot dogs, and beer for an extended celebration that lasted late into the night. Reggie would have small rallies in the city where a few people would show up for tea and cookies.
Everyone thought Reggie would win because Lumpkin said all sorts of crazy things. One time he told his followers that Reggie was really a Mountainland man because his skin was light and he should not be allowed to be Leader of the Riverlands. He told them that if he was Leader, he would deport Reggie along with all the other Mountainland people. He also told everyone at his campaign rallies that if they ate yellow tomatoes women would become infertile and men would suffer from erectile dysfunction. After that warning, he would drift into a discussion of his personal sex drive and seven children.
The city folk thought Lumpkin was a joke but the country folk thought him a hero.
Lumpkin came to the city to spread his message of returning to the greatness that once was but the city people did not accept his words. Their world was working just fine. In fact, they were prosperous with a good way of life and a clear path to the future. Weren't they the ones who labored to make a life for themselves through education? They redefined themselves and adapted to circumstances. They wrapped their arms around the neck of change and let it take them for a ride. Why would they want to abandon their progress and return to the farming life?
Large groups of people protested Lumpkin. They didn't like what he said and didn't want him to be Leader of the Riverlands. Even though they hated Lumpkin, they also didn't really like Reggie. Reggie was okay, but there was no passion. They would hold their nose and cast their vote for Reggie because he just had to win; if Lumpkin won, the world would end.
Election Day finally came to the Riverlands. The farming folk showed up in record numbers to vote. Some of these people had never bothered to vote before because, until Lumpkin, they had never had a candidate that spoke to them. The city people voted in fear. Fear of losing their way of life. Fear of Lumpkin.
When the results were tallied, Lumpkin won. The city people cried and gnashed their teeth and predicted the end of the world. The country folk preened and strutted and basked in the glory that was the past that would be returning to the future.
Lumpkin took office and started fulfilling his campaign promises. The city people didn't think that anyone in their right mind would do some of the things that were promised but they were wrong. Yellow tomatoes were outlawed in the Riverlands. The facilities that grew large quantities of the yellow tomatoes were burned to the ground and all seeds were destroyed. If anyone was caught with a yellow tomato, they were sent to jail.
Brian Delahanty found himself unemployed with an uncertain future. He was known for developing the yellow tomato and Lumpkin found in Brian a scapegoat. Even though food shortages were caused by Lumpkin's decision to outlaw yellow tomatoes, Lumpkin was able to convince the country folk that Brian had caused the problem. According to Lumpkin, Brian had engineered the red tomato to not produce as much so the yellow tomato would grow to be the dominant strain. All crop failures were due to Brian's greed.
Lumpkin had no basis in fact for his statements. The city people knew this but the country folk believed everything that came out of Lumpkin's mouth was true.
Brian and his family left in the middle of the night and snuck across the border into the Mountainlands.
TWENTY YEARS LATER
Buford Delahanty was nursing his legs as he elevated the recliner in his living room. He didn't know what was wrong with them, they were twice as large as they should be and it hurt like hell to walk. Well, next month there was a doctor coming to his village, and if he was lucky, he could get an appointment. That's if he could manage to make it to the village to set up the appointment. Maybe the nice boy from the church who was bringing groceries to his home would set it up for him. But even if he had an appointment, he had no money, and the doctors wouldn't see him without money. He also had no way to get to the village to see the doctor. They would have to come to him and everyone knew that house calls were impossible.
Lord, he missed his brother. If Brian had stayed in the Riverlands, he would have some family. Now he had no one. Kayla had passed away two years ago and since then, he had been alone. A mind-numbing, go feeble in the head kind of alone. And with his age and infirmities, one day he was going to get in trouble and no one would be there to help. He was the old dog that goes into the woods to die except for him, it was the farm, and all he needed to do was stumble in the field or fall in the house. It would take a couple of days probably, but he would die as sure as the sick dog trotting off to the woods was never returning.
Maybe life would have been different if Lumpkin hadn't been elected as Leader all those years ago. He was a big Lumpkin supporter, still was. He voted for Lumpkin Jr. when Lumpkin Sr. passed away due to complications from obesity and diabetes. But then, even if you didn't vote for Lumpkin Jr., your vote said you did. He had taken ninety-nine percent of the vote. An affirmation vote. If there had been any real opposition he supposed that unlucky person would have ended up in some hog's gut.
He would like to make it across the mountains into the Mountainlands but Lumpkin Sr. had built that damn wall. He said it was to keep the nasty, stupid mountain people out of the Riverlands but somehow the wall functioned to keep the Riverlands people in the Riverlands. It had taken most of the treasury to build the wall, but everyone thought it a good idea. Everyone in the country, that is. The city folk were not in favor but Lumpkin would purposely do things that city folk didn't want just to thumb his nose at them.
Buford didn't like the Mountainland people either and supported building the wall but if he went to the Mountainlands, Brian and his family would take him in. There he could have free medical services and plenty of food. He could spend his old age in comfort instead of on the wretched farm with the little red tomatoes that no one wanted anymore.
Everyone wanted the big yellow tomatoes that were smuggled in from the Mountainlands. The big, round, luscious red tomatoes that had made the Riverlands famous were gone. Disease and poor farming practices had decimated crops and left only a small, dry, shriveled tomato. The scrawny red tomatoes had no taste and were mealy when eaten. No one liked them but they had nothing else.
Maybe if some of the educated people had stayed in the Riverlands things would have been different. But Lumpkin was determined to stamp out all opposition and as soon as he gained power, he worked to discredit all who talked against him. First, he fired all of the college professors, then the military officers, stacking those institutions with his people, and eventually he did away with the other elected members of the government. He proclaimed himself as Leader for life and anyone who could fled to the Mountainlands.
Buford hadn't wanted to flee. He had liked Lumpkin. He liked the way Lumpkin talked to the common man and how what he said resonated as truth. But once Lumpkin was Leader, things changed. Somehow everything was for the benefit of Lumpkin. Now that things had gone so bad, maybe he did see the error of his thinking. Maybe what the city folk said about Lumpkin was true.
Buford drifted off to sleep in his recliner and was awoken by a loud knock on the door.
"Come in," he said groggily. "It's open."
"I've got a package from the Mountainlands for you," said Hardy, the mailman, as he stepped inside the house. "It must be from Brian. How's he doing?"
Hardy had been a classmate of Brian's years ago and asked of him every time he saw Buford.
"Last I heard he was doing well. His kid Ashley married a Mountainland man but Brian doesn't seem to give a damn. Sends pictures of his blond-headed grandchildren to me like he's proud or something."
Hardy handed Buford a large box and turned to go.
"Well, tell Brian I said hello if you ever see him."
Buford grabbed his knife off the table next to his chair and started opening the box with great anticipation. The box was big enough to contain something other than a letter or photographs.
He cut the tape, opened the flaps, and was greeted with shades of yellow. Bright yellow like the sun to chartreuse - tomatoes, dozens of them. They were large and plump and misshapen but Buford thought they were the most beautiful things he had ever seen. His eyes filled with tears and the colors blended to one shade of yellow.
His stomach growled and his hands shook as he took a tomato out of the box and began to cut slices. The first slice sent his taste buds into ecstasy and as he chewed, he savored the delicious flavor and marveled at the juiciness of the fruit. He slowly ate the first tomato, slice by slice, and then reached for the letter from his brother that was on top of the tomatoes.
Buford put down the letter with trembling hands as tears streamed down his face. He missed his brother and longed to be with his remaining family even if that meant leaving the farm and moving to the Mountainlands. Kayla had always wanted children but they had not been blessed. Ashley was expecting a child, a boy, named after him and Brian. A little baby.
Pamela Hudson is a financial services professional in Sarasota, FL where in addition to working with numbers and advising people how to reduce taxes, she's a contributing columnist to a regional business journal. She has also published featured articles in the Journal of Accountancy and Managed Care Magazine. Her fiction has appeared in The Savannah Anthology 2015 and Literally Stories.