But while every move is exciting and adventurous, each is also very sad. When you move, you leave a place that was intimately yours for at least some time. It was your sacred and private space where your family shared its happiest and saddest moments. And every house has some feature you’re going to miss: an enclosed back yard, a pool, an awesome TV room, a soaker bathtub, or a nice oven.
When we moved this summer, the hardest things to leave were the tomatoes. We hadn’t planted a garden in a few years when we moved into that house, and we were delighted to see that it had a charming little greenhouse attached to the home. The kitchen window opens right up into the greenhouse and we dreamt of future late-summer mornings when we’d open that window and breathe in the crisp air perfumed with the delicious smells of tomatoes and herbs.
This spring we cleaned out the greenhouse, brought in new topsoil and steer manure, and planted three kinds of tomatoes, four kinds of peppers, some herbs, and a couple melon vines around the outside of it. We laid some soaker hoses and weed screen. We fertilized. And we carefully tended the garden daily through the spring and early summer, pulling weeds and redirecting growth.
The garden thrived. The tomatoes were especially hearty. They grew tall and full and bushy green. They smelled wonderful. And they began to bear tight little green fruit just as it was time for us to pack up and move away from them. We kept hoping a few would ripen before we left, but the date drew ever nearer and the gorgeous baby tomatoes refused to soften and change color for us.
We started debating what to do about our beautiful tomato plants in the house we were about to leave. Would they be cared for by the next tenants? Would they get watered every day? Would they be appreciated and enjoyed? Would the new family ever open the kitchen window on a crisp late-summer morning and really, truly enjoy their smell?
Upon a lot of reflection on all these questions, we finally determined that no one else on earth could possibly enjoy and care for these tomatoes like we had. They would surely be dead in a week. Dead and not mourned. Not appreciated.
So we decided to dig them up. We’d try to move them with us and transplant them into our new backyard. This would surely fail—there’s no way plants that size and so well rooted in were going to survive transplantation across town. But then at least they’d die in our own arms and not at the careless hand of some neglectful and unworthy usurper of tomatoes.
These were not rational thoughts. These are the kinds of dramatic thoughts you have when you’re in the middle of a move, exhausted from hauling boxes, sleeping scant hours in chaotic half-painted bedrooms, and surviving on a strict diet of pizza and cheeseburgers.
Fortunately, amid all that chaos, we did regain some composure and remember the great heritage we have from our immediate families and backward through pioneer ancestors and all the way back to Abraham, who spent his life digging wells he’d never stay long enough to drink much from. These were wells he dug for future strangers who might not appreciate or enjoy the water near as much as Abraham would have. But he dug the wells anyway.
This last Thursday marked the anniversary of the Mormon Pioneers arriving in Utah, a day we call Pioneer Day in Utah and a couple surrounding states. It’s a great time to reflect on their example and the hard work they did along the way.
In particular, one unique feature of the Mormon passage across the United States planes in the 1840s was that they improved the trail along the way. The historian Wallace Stegner, who was not a Mormon, described it like this:
“Few California or Oregon emigrants gave a thought to people coming after them, unless they feared company behind them might pass them and use up the grass. There are recorded instances of their destroying rafts and ferries to prevent their use by other groups. Not so the Mormons. The first thought of the pioneer company was to note good campgrounds, wood, water, grass, to measure distances and set up mileposts. They and succeeding companies bent their backs to build bridges and dig down the steep approaches of fords…they threw rocks off the road on the rough stretch between Fort Laramie and the Mormon Ferry at modern Casper, Wyoming; they cut and grubbed the abominable willows in the East Canyon bottoms.”
We thought about those examples and we decided to walk away from our beloved tomato plants. Maybe they’d waste away and wither. Or maybe they’d be cared for and enjoyed. But either way, we were happy to leave them for strangers in our wake.
As it turns out, we got to eat one small and not-quite-ripe tomato on the day we moved. We let Olivia eat the whole thing because she was particularly sad about moving that day. She said it was delicious.
As it also turned out, the new tenants aren’t really strangers in our wake anyway. We don’t know them, but they attend the same Mormon congregations we do and we have a lot of mutual acquaintances. By all reports, they’ve also enjoyed and tended those tomatoes just as well as we did.
In fact, Wendy got an idea to ask permission from them to go back a week later and pick a few tomatoes to surprise me for my birthday. When she called and introduced herself to the new tenants, they immediately responded, “Don’t worry, we’re watering the garden!”