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In our own backyard... The 'Attack of the Killer Tomatoes' rides again

When my children were still in their preteen years, one night they were planning to have some of their friends over and they asked me to stop by the video store and pick up a couple of videos for them to watch.

When my children were still in their preteen years, one night they were planning to have some of their friends over and they asked me to stop by the video store and pick up a couple of videos for them to watch.

Knowing that it would be a safe bet to pick up something fairly offbeat and funky, I brought home a Seventies classic called, "The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes." It turned out to be a spoof of those B-grade horror movies that are more hokey than horrifying.

The story line involves a batch of tomatoes coming to life and revolting against humanity. In one scene, a tomato rises out of a woman's garbage disposal unit and terrorizes her by cornering her in her kitchen. As police later investigate her death, they discover she is covered not with blood - but with tomato juice.

What follows is a series of attacks by the mutant tomatoes, including one on an innocent swimmer (a la "Jaws").

After the tomatoes are eventually cornered in a stadium and eliminated after being squashed under the feet of a crowd of people, a carrot rises from the earth and says, "All right, you guys. They're gone now."

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It's just too much.

But sometimes, the highly improbable has a way of actually becoming reality....

A couple of weeks ago, the government released a cautionary statement alerting the public about a widespread outbreak of salmonella, believed to have resulted from tainted tomatoes.

As luck would have it, at the time the statement came out, I had just purchased a boatload of tomatoes to serve in various ways during the visit of our daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter the coming weekend.

As authorities expanded on the cautionary statement over the next few days, it sounded as though it would be all right to eat grape and on-the-vine tomatoes, which were the two types I had on hand. Further news updates claimed that since no cases of the salmonella poisoning had yet occurred in Minnesota, chances are the tainted tomatoes hadn't made it this far.

But as the weekend grew near, I became a wee bit nervous about possibly contaminating the whole family.

After considerable deliberation and a great deal of soul searching, however, I decided to go ahead and use the grape tomatoes in the salad I had planned for lunch on Sunday.

Before making it, I washed the tiny tomatoes in soap and water, nervously debating if the resulting salad would taste like Dawn Dishwashing Detergent.

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I rinsed the suspect tomatoes thoroughly in steaming hot water, popped one in my mouth to sample it, and then, since I didn't feel the least bit woozy, went ahead and put them into the cold pasta salad I was preparing for lunch.

It was with only slight misgivings that I watched the entire family enthusiastically dive into the salad the following day.

I was at last feeling pretty laid back about the whole thing by the time we went to bed that night.

Since the next day was a work day for me (my husband had taken the day off to be with our visiting kids), I departed at an early hour for the office.

The others had laid out plans the previous night to drive up the North Shore that day, and a big part of me wished I was going along with them.

And then, the phone at my desk rang not long after I arrived at the office. It was my husband on the other end of the line.

"Guess what, I have two sick girls here with me...." he began with a gloomy sound to his voice.

My heart stopped beating and my mouth went dry.

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"Oh, no!" I moaned to myself in horror. "The tomatoes!"

I had to give my benumbed brain a mental shake to bring it back to reality in time to focus on what my husband said next.

"We just spent most of the morning in urgent care...." he continued, as I blanched ghost white, "and they tested positive for strep!"

Pine Journal columnist Wendy Johnson can be contacted at: wjohnson@pinejournal.com .

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