Who Was That Tomato?

Dearest Rachel –

During my final year in college, I took both a business class in marketing, and an art class in graphic design. I’m not entirely certain, therefore, which class introduced me to the Wolfschmidt Vodka ad campaign. Dating from either the late 50s or the early 60s, it was one of the first such campaigns to employ certain design elements such as white space, but also the element of humor in its print campaign.

Bear in mind, prior to the introduction of flavored vodkas (which began in earnest after either of us graduated), there really wasn’t an easy way to distinguish one company’s product from another’s. So it truly was a question of marketing as to which company’s product would get ahead in the industry. To be fair, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen this brand in real life, so the ultimate success of this campaign could be considered debatable, this particular series stood out in my mind since all the way back then.

There’s something decidedly droll about a bottle of vodka hitting on various fruits, in order to demonstrate what a smooth mixer he is. And regardless of your opinion of Bloody Marys or Screwdrivers, it’s memorably amusing to see him shot down by the orange and her jealous rejoinder, “Who was that tomato I saw you with last week?”

Of course, the concept of a ‘tomato’ being a cute girl (with the slight pejorative implications of being one a little too free with her charms) was already out of fashion when I was reading about the campaign in the late 80s, so it may well be that the joke is entirely lost on those reading it nearly forty more years since. But you still get the idea that the orange is none too happy about Wolfschmdt fooling around with other fruits. And yet, that’s pretty much what vodka does, leading to an exchange I still recall all this time later. I’d completely forgotten the brand until I went to look it up, though, so… the campaign may not have helped the company all that much.

This all came to me yesterday, as the family went out to celebrate our nephew Will’s birthday. These get-togethers are fewer and farther between than they used to be, thanks to the effects of dad’s illness and his inability to eat, as well as having been curtailed by the pandemic. So, rather than being a near-weekly event, like you remember, these are at best a monthly occasion, with birthdays thrown in for good measure. Still, we enjoy the chance to hang out and catch up with each other on how things have been going, so maybe there’s something to be said for there being time between each get together, so there is some thing that’s happened with talking about.

Be that as it may, I have to confess to having thought about you when we were served our first course; and it’s here where you’ll finally start to realize what my first story had to do with anything.

See that little red thing in the upper right? I think you know where this is going.

Now, I enjoy tomatoes when they are reduced to sauce; be it bolognese, diavolo, marinara, or yes, even a light vodka sauce, pour it over pasta (or pizza), and I’m there. But in the raw state? No, thank you. The idea of crunching down on a whole tomato as if it were a cherry or a grape I find, quite literally, distasteful. And let’s not even get into the concept of sliced tomatoes, those ‘little pink bicycle tires’ that even George Carlin refused to eat.

Meanwhile, those were practically your thing. When we would go to a sandwich shop, you would order a layer of tomatoes, followed by (if you could get away with it) another layer of tomatoes. I’d even go so far as to be an accomplice in your tomato heist, claiming ‘she can have mine.’ Combine that love of tomatoes with your nearly obsessive desire not to waste anything, and you know where that one thing in my salad would end up – on your plate, and in short order, in your stomach.

For what it’s worth, it was Daniel who took that tomato off my hands yesterday, so that’s one more thing for you to be proud of him about. You never got me to eat them, but you told him to like them. So I’d call that a win in your ledger.

As for the jealous orange…

At some point during the meal, the conversation turned to an informal reunion that Jenn had been to with a group of her classmates from the Lutheran school we attended for most of our elementary school days. For my part, those were the most awkward days of my life, socially speaking, so that while I may have done well intellectually and theologically (because nothing sharpens your understanding of your beliefs than having to constantly defend them against someone whose own don’t line up with them), I wanted no reminders of those days once I put them behind. It’s where I got so good at forgetting my past, to the point where I worry that the good things – like our life together – will eventually escape my memory, whether I want them to or not.

But that’s beside the point, here. The thing is, she gets together on an irregular basis with about 10 or 20 of her classmates even other year or so, and one such reunion had recently taken place. One of the most remarkable things about it was the discovery that, even at her relatively young age (fifty’s still young for this, I would think), she was the only one left with a successful marriage. One of her friends basically told her, “Whatever you two are doing, keep doing it.”

Now, I don’t know what is meant in this context by a successful marriage. Yes, it should be obvious, but where do we fall, honey? We’re not still together, after all – although that’s through no fault of our own relationship with each other. But I’m as alone as those divorceés – except with the sole regret about letting you go down that last run, as opposed to however many things I said or didn’t say that drove you away. We made it to the logical end of a happy marriage, but… would it still be considered successful were I (or someone in my situation) to show up at a reunion alone? I’m not entirely sure.

Interestingly, E.C. has been asking me questions about what I consider to be keys to a successful relationship; it feels like it’s all part of the interview process. I’m embarrassed to admit that most of my answers were of the secular variety, whereas she brought up the fact that we would need to be unified in our faith. It may be a promising sign, or she may just be telling me things she thinks I want to hear (which is a whole other topic for another time at this point). As always, it leaves me wondering.

Not so much that I’d be likely to mix myself up a Bloody Mary with breakfast, though, that’s for sure.

Take care, honey, and keep an eye out for me. I’ll be in touch.

Published by randy@letters-to-rachel.memorial

I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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