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Harry Potter killed my tomatoes

By Mitch Chase



There's still a brown spot in my vegetable garden, where I had to uproot 20 tomato plants, all victims of a disease that recently surfaced in the Tennessee Valley.

Although the spotted wilt virus caused the ultimate demise of my beloved love apples, the real culprit was another disease that has infected the Valley in recent years: Harry Potter fever.

My 11-year-old son, Roy, is a victim. He idolizes Harry Potter, the fictional British witch-in-training. Aside from Harry Potter books and the movie video, Roy's got Harry Potter dolls, dioramas and posters festooning his room. He's also got Harry Potter T-shirts, underwear and socks, and even brushes his teeth with a Harry Potter toothbrush. He spends hours playing Harry Potter computer games, and also fancies himself an expert on arcane Harry Potter trivia.

So, when I discovered that someone had torched my tomato plants, causing what turned out to be irreparable damage to them, I immediately knew Roy had been acting out some Harry Potter "Hogwarts" rituals with gasoline and matches.

It was an easy call.

When I was his age, I, too, made gasoline bombs. And I also fantasized that I was a fictional British character -- perhaps the greatest of them all.

At the age of 11, I was Bond -- James Bond -- and I had a "license to kill."

I got the "license" at a movie house, a diploma-looking piece of paper promoting the following week's feature, "Dr. No," the first James Bond movie.

I had no idea what it was about, or if I'd even like the movie, but I still paid 35 cents to see it, and it changed my life.

In an era when James Bond is known chiefly as a spy caricature (Austin Powers being the most popular), it may be hard to comprehend that people --particularly young boys -- took those movies seriously. The so-cool Agent 007, played by actor Sean Connery, was everything I could dream of being: an attaché-case-carrying sophisticate with a wry sense of humor, a magnet for incredibly sexy women with remarkably unlikely names, and a tireless fighter of the forces of evil resourceful to the point of being able to escape certain death on a regular basis.

When I walked out of the theater, the rousing "Dr. No" soundtrack still in my mind, my most prized possession was a movie-house promotional flier-- my "license to kill."

I taped the "license" to a wall of my bedroom closet, which eventually became a shrine to James Bond and the headquarters of my own "spy agency." It was a small outfit, the only two members being myself and a favored uncle -- a World War II Navy fighter pilot with three "kills" to his credit -- who presented me with a long pearly-handled pocket knife that he assured me spies "would use."

Although several James Bond toys soon appeared on the market, a model Aston Martin car with an "ejection seat" being one of the most popular, my collection of Bond accoutrements was small. My prized possession was a plastic "Goldfinger" ring that broke the first time I wore it.

However, living in the country, I was able to carry out my firebombings of imaginary foreign spy headquarters and the like with impunity -- far from the watchful eyes of my parents. Roy had much less room, though, and when his "Hogwarts" rituals went awry, so did my tomatoes. (In their weakened state, they were easy prey for wilt.)

Roy eventually admitted his culpability in the firebombing after being confronted with rather convincing evidence, including the singed condition of his arms.

I let him off easy, though.

It's been years since I last had my "license to kill."

© Mitch Chase

* * * * *

Mitch Chase is an award-winning copy editor and columnist for The Decatur (Ala.) Daily. Prior to coming to Decatur, he worked 13 years as a writer and editor for The Daily Journal in Caracas, Venezuela, where he was twice decorated by Venezuelan presidents (one of whom was later impeached). A bilingual speaker, Chase also was a correspondent for foreign publications ranging from Baseball America to The Times of London. Born in Minnesota and raised in Nebraska, Chase was educated in Louisiana, graduating from the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now Louisiana-Lafayette) in English-journalism in 1978. A former managing editor of the Houma (La.) Daily Courier, Chase is married to the former Maritza Peñalver of Caracas. They have two children, Dixie Lee and Roy. His hobbies include woodworking, gardening and barbecue.


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