Memories of Tomato Festival

The summer I was 19, my friend Devin invited me to take part in the single greatest adventure a kid from Leamington could ever have: to ride on the Zellers float in the Tomato Festival parade. I did not even wait to find out what would be required of me before answering.

Yes. Yes. A thousand times, yes.

And then Devin told me the one thing that could make the news better: we would be paying a musical tribute to Stompin' Tom Connors. And if you're toasting the Stomper in Leamington, there's only one song you need to do it with. The Ketchup Song.

"There was a guy from PEI we used to call Potato.
He met this young Leamington, Ontario tomato."

I showed up in the parking lot of the old Leamington arena wearing a straw hat and a plaid shirt with mother-of-pear snaps tucked into tight jeans. Devin had already set up on the flat bed truck with his snare drum and cymbals. I hoisted my heavy, 1960s-era guitar amp beside him, cranked the bass up as high as it would go, and prepared for the adventure.

"But he had eyes for other girls, and she was a little mushy.
So they said, "Let's get wed. There's no sense being buzzy."

Which is the silliest lyric ever. Why didn't he just say " sense being fussy?"

"Big size, French Fries: How they love tomatoes.
So dress them up with Heinz Ketchup -
Ketchup loves potatoes.
Ketchup loves potatoes."

The rest of the float comprised of a bunch of waving Zellers employees wearing Club-Z t-shirts. They sat in joyful expectation on bales of straw beside baskets of tomatoes. Before the parade began, I knew they would come to hate Devin and me.

"So he went down to Windsor town to buy a ring on Monday.
Saturday, they said, 'Ok, we'll cut the cake on Sunday.'"

The parade took a while to start. We were near the back, and there were many dozens of floats. The Zellers employees were getting antsy.

"Come on!" they yelled. "Play us a song to pass the time!"

"But Sunday came, and what a shame, they had no one to fetch it.
Without a cake they just sat and ate potato chips and ketchup."

So, we did.

"Big size, French Fries: How they love tomatoes.
So dress them up with Heinz Ketchup -
Ketchup loves potatoes.
Ketchup loves potatoes."

By the time we finished the song, our float had joined the parade. The sense of jubilation was palpable. This crew from Zellers was ready to rock.

"More!" they cried.

"Ok," we replied.

"And now that guy from PEI they used to call Potato,
he's got two boys and a little girl - two spuds and one tomato."

At song end, a few people on the float cheered, a little less enthusiastically this time.

"What else do you know?" they asked.

"Besides what?" we replied.

"You know, the Ketchup Song!"

"What's that?" said Devin. "Sure, we'll play it again."

"They romp and run around Leamington, and boy, when they get hungry
The bottle drips all over the chips way down in the Ketchup Country."

And we did, and we did, and we did, and we did.

"Big size, French Fries: How they love tomatoes.
So dress them up with Heinz Ketchup -"

"The Ketchup Song!" Screamed the crowds along the parade route. These were Leamingtonians, and this was THEIR song. I'm sure some of them wondered why the waving Zellers employees looked so grumpy.

Only Devin and I knew the reason.

"Ketchup loves potatoes.
Ketchup loves potatoes...

The Tomato Festival Parade route runs south along Erie Street from Wilkinson Drive to Seacliffe Drive. I'm not sure the exact distance. Far enough that I think we sang the song at least 2 dozen times.

"Ketchup loves potatoes!"

I have since become a much nicer person.


karn, leamintonian and spectator said...

that WAS a great parade day...

Unknown said...

I believe we won "Best Float from a Local Business."

Because Zellers is a local business, don't you know.

auntie said...

It's way more local than you-know-who!

Unknown said...


Decadent Housewife said...

Any Leamingtonian or other person who can read a map will tell you that we go "up" to Windsor not "down." Maybe he meant buzzy after all.

Unknown said...

Yes, but he's a Maritimer. On Cape Breton you go "down North." On PEI you go "up West" and "down East."