Have you ever experienced one of those times when something that’s really small, not a big deal at all in the overall scheme of life, just sets you off?

That happened to me, around the middle of July, when I faced the realization head-on that I wasn’t going to get any tomatoes from my garden.

We’d marched through one disappointment after the other like troopers: school closures, canceled vacation, a soccer season cut short (and by short I mean 1 game instead of 21), no time hanging out with friends. “Chin up,” Grandma would have said. “It could be worse.” I tried to focus on the positives: more family time, getting important things done around the house, taking more time to enjoy where we live by spending more time at the creek and riding bikes down the road populated with black cows and an occasional donkey.

Aother thing I appreciated was more time in the garden. I had enlisted the help of the kids in planning and planting this year (thinking it was a good educational activity for them when they were remote learning in the spring). I went out diligently to hoe weeds once a week, keeping the weeds away better than I ever have in all my years of gardening. And I was rewarded for my efforts by productive bush-bean plants and cucumbers as long as my forearm. When I started seeing the multitude of yellow blossoms on my cherry tomatoes turn into little green fruits I bought bleu cheese dressing and extra bacon and started looking forward to salads and BLTs.

The days went by, turning into weeks, and there were never any red tomatoes on my plants. Lots and lots of green ones, but no red ones.

Then one morning I went to the garden to pick beans, the day after a hard rain, and the cloven hoof prints were undeniable. All through my garden, but mostly around my beautiful, green, bushy tomato plants. I could have let out a stream of cusswords that would look like this in a comic strip: *&%@!#  *!?#$ &#@*@!$ %^&# *%@!$.

Fighting back tears of anger, I told myself it didn’t matter. After all, I could buy tomatoes at Hawk’s Market, and I tried to look on the bright side. We still had beans, I thank the Lord the deer didn’t eat Carter’s corn (he definitely would have been mad enough for a stream of curse words).

But you know what? It did matter. Every summer I carefully plan out my produce growing/cooking adventures to have a BLT and a slice of blueberry pie. That wasn’t going to happen. There wouldn’t be any tomato soup made with love by me and Caroline, this year with the immersion blender I’d gotten for Christmas. And not only that, I felt like all the time spent hoeing and babying the tomato plants had been a total waste. I was mad. Was I really just mad about the tomatoes? Definitely not. Months of staying home, forced out of our regular routine, worried about so many things beyond my control, had built up to a boil. And that morning, the deer took the brunt of my angry outburst.

I’ve learned three things from this summer’s tomato experience.

1. Build a deer fence. I guess it was just pure luck I hadn’t needed one before. I thought all the measures I was doing were enough to keep the deer out of my garden (placing human and dog hair in the garden and religiously spraying Liquid Fence deer and rabbit repellant. I also learned this summer that motion lights could help, so we turned on the ones on the garage right by the garden. Didn’t help.)

2. There will be good days and bad days in life, and that’s okay. It’s a lesson that I’ve tried to communicate to my kids, even before COVID, but it’s one I still need to hear myself every now and then. Sure, it’s great to try to see the silver linings in the clouds and make lemonade out of lemons. But no human being is capable of being happy all the time. Sometimes when life gives you lemons it’s okay to be mad about it. And that’s what makes you a healthy human being.

3. I can still enjoy a great BLT made from homegrown tomatoes. Thanks to the generosity of others who didn’t have deer feasting in their garden every night (Jennifer Adams), my windowsill did end up populated by beautiful red tomatoes.