A Miracle Grow

Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Junie Himsel of Ireland poses for a portrait with his tomato plant at home on Tuesday. The plant sprouted from a tiny crack between the concrete at his home in June and has yielded more than 60 tomatoes.

By ALLEN LAMAN
alaman@dcherald.com

IRELAND — The seed was never meant to bloom.

From the day it fell inside an inch-wide crack between a concrete sidewalk and Junie Himsel’s brick home in Ireland, it didn’t have a chance. It lay suffocated and shielded from the elements it needed to thrive — the promise of its life stunted by its surroundings.

Its story should have ended before it began.

And yet, the seed found a way.

You could call it persistent. Or maybe you’d say it was stubborn.

No matter how you look at the tomato plant that defied the circumstances of its birth on its way to shooting 12 feet into the air, it’s still there.

To Himsel, its growth exemplifies the power of nature. But maybe there’s more to take away from this tenacious plant. Because even though it had every reason to give up, it never did.

Himsel first noticed it in late June, back when the then-tiny stalk had just poked its head up and taken its first breaths. A visitor spotted the seedling and nearly pulled it out. It would never amount to anything, she thought.

But Himsel stopped her before she could uproot the budding green.

“Because it had the strength to come up from a crack in the sidewalk, why would I not see what it would do?” he recalled.

For the next four months, he would baby and nurture it, giving it a glass of water every other day. Once, he dabbed Miracle-Gro on his backyard miracle. It fought closer to the sun with each passing day.

As its roots deepened, and its stems multiplied, and its leaves unfolded, Himsel found more ways to encourage the sprout. He slit the bottom of a pot, filled it with dirt and positioned it around the base of the exposed stem — locked into place by a handful of bricks — and he constructed an ever-expanding wire cage around its flourishing vines.

For the first time in its life, someone believed in the plant. Someone thought it could be more than a tiny pip in a dank crease. Someone loved it. And it grew, and it grew, and it grew.

No longer an infant, Himsel’s friend now had a name. He called it his crazy tomato plant — though as it continued to push upward, it began to look more and more like a tree.

As of Tuesday, he had harvested 63 tomatoes from the improbable fruit bearer. Forty more waited to be plucked.

The bloom has grown taller than his first-floor kitchen window, and Himsel needs to use a ladder to harvest the golf-ball-sized tomatoes near the top. None are scarred or diseased.

Despite the drop in temperatures, it still radiates a healthy, bright green glow. Himsel has other tomato stalks growing in a garden near a chicken shed on his property. Already wilting away, none were as successful as the crazy one.

Even though it is mighty, soon, like everything that starts as a baby and climbs to heights it never could have imagined, Himsel’s crazy tomato plant will die. As the days turn colder, its life grows shorter.

But this story of this resilient seed will not be marked by the last of its breaths.

It will be remembered for the fact that it ever breathed at all.

That it learned to stand without legs.

That with a little help from a friend, it reached for the sky.

And that despite coming from the darkest of places, the seed that was never meant to bloom burst open to share its beautiful fruit with the world.




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