"It's the only one like this out there." A mottled hand reached over the fence, holding out a glowing yellow orb.
"I can't take that, Bob. It's your only one," I responded.
"Oh, it's an ugly one, alright," he continued, misunderstanding me. "But it'll taste good."
I looked into his blue eyes, through the chain link, and smiled. "Really? Bob? It's your only one. I'm sure it's delicious but really?"
He nodded, his ninety year old eyes crinkling under the battered sun hat. "There's none other like it out there." He gestured behind him, to the well tended vegetable patch at the back of his yard. It brimmed with eggplants, sprawling squash and watermelon vines, and stretching tomato plants.
I took his single, beautiful heirloom tomato in both hands and thanked him. He waved it away and began talking of his days at the farm bureau back in the 1930s. The conversation drifted to various watering techniques and then his favorite fruit trees. When we parted, I cradled Bob's gift in my hands.
There is something special in giving to your neighbors, sharing your bounty. But there is something spectacular, truly humbling in giving not your worst, not your leftovers or extras, but your best. Your only. That afternoon, my parents' elderly neighbor picked the very best from his yard. The only large tomato. And gave it to me - a neighbor's daughter he hardly knew.
I cradled his tomato. Rested it on the counter in my parents' kitchen and then hauled it home to my own kitchen, where it sat atop my fruit bowl, proudly, patiently, reminding me.
This has been a rough couple of weeks. The stock market plummeted. Nest eggs disappeared. Jobs were cut. Budgets were slashed. The bitter division over two Presidential candidates, two schools of political thought, persisted.
Yesterday, at the farmers' market, people frowned. The early autumn sun reached down and faint breezes buffeted. Still, someone barked at another for stepping in front of her. Another customer tossed Sapphira's cauliflower on the table after hearing its price. Horns honked. Elbows nudged.
It was not our finest hour. It has not been our finest year. Or decade.
But as I left Sapphira's stall, she placed her two biggest Sugar Pie pumpkins in my basket. "Please take them," she nodded. "I saved them for you. Your boys will love some pumpkin pie." She waved away my money and told me she'd see me next week.
Toting home my gift, I thought of Sapphira's saved pumpkins, Bob's best tomato.
In this month of lost savings and political division, I learned about what we truly need to survive. The very best of each other. The very best of ourselves.