One of my most profound memories of Mom’s kindness is the “Tomato Boys” story. I told this story at her funeral.
We grew up in Miami, Florida in the 1960’s. Miami may be a cosmopolitan, international city now. But it was a sleepy, deeply southern city back then. It was also an agricultural area where many African Americans and other minorities made their living selling fruits and vegetables door to door in the white neighborhoods. The farmer father would stay in his truck while his young children would run door to door shouting “Tomato Boys! Tomato Boys!” Some of our neighbors were nice to the “Tomato Boys” and ashamedly, many were not. It was a bad time for race relations in America- except not at 175 NE 132nd Street in North Miami. Because that’s where we lived. Racial intolerance simply had no place in our home. I can honestly say that I never once heard my parents ever utter a racial slur or even speak ill of someone due to “what they were” ever- even to this day. What a blessing that was in and of itself. Anyhow, when the Tomato Boys came around my house, Mom would have me get Coke or Cool Aid or Hawaiian Punch (which was big back then) and serve the boys cool refreshments in Dixie Cups. She would also make sure to buy whatever tomatoes she could and would give the boys a quarter tip each. Not bad money for an 8 year old kid in 1968 when Wrigley’s gum was 5 cents a pack. This was Miami in the summer. Had to be 95 degrees and 80% humidity. I’m sure the young Tomato Boys really appreciated the cool drinks, yet they never knew my mom’s name. One time, their father in the truck yelled out “hey boy, where’d you get that drink?” In response, I heard the boys yell back “that nice white lady” as they pointed to my house.
That story always makes me emotional. Not sure why. Perhaps its because it speaks to the essence of who my mom was. Like me, those “tomato boys” today would be in their late 40’s. I’ll bet if I could locate them, they’d remember that story too.
While the innocence and simple human kindness of the Tomato Boys story is hard to replicate in a charitable foundation, we’re going to do our best to capture the essence of Mom’s preference for “Random Acts of Kindness.” And that’s why we do it Patti’s Way.
Steve Streit – Founder of Patti’s Way