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Katie Diez grew tomato from seed she found on her late father's shirt

"My dad wasn't very good at washing clothes"

Katie Dieze is a pediatric occupational therapist and the cofounder of Comfort Seeds, an initiative that uses gardening to help kids who have lost loved ones heal. She’s currently writing a Comfort Seeds children’s book, in collaboration with Oregon-based illustrator Manda Severin. And she’s dreaming of the trip she’ll take once pandemic restrictions are lifted: to Copenhagen, and Denmark’s new Happiness Museum, which recently added a packet of comfort seeds to its collection. “My cup is completely full,” says Diez.

Diez has a talent for creating life in the midst of mourning. She started Comfort Seeds in 2016, as she marked the 10-year anniversary of her father’s death. When her father died of cancer in 2006, she couldn’t bear to part with his shirts. So she tucked them away, taking them with her as her family moved homes and her daughter grew into a teen.

When the 10-year anniversary of her father’s death arrived, Diez decided use the shirts to make her mother and siblings quilts. She had little quilt-making experience. “But I jump into projects when I decide I want to do something, and I figure it out,” she says. Pressing her father’s shirts became a kind of meditation: With each stroke of the hot iron, a breath of his scent wafted up in the steam.

As she folded, Diez found small gifts left in the shirt creases. An old sticker her daughter had stuck to her father’s shirt. Little bits of food and pocket lint (“My dad wasn’t very good at washing clothes”). And then, stuck to one of the shirts, Diez found a tiny, 10-year-old tomato seed. She didn’t think much of it at first, but then she found a second one, clinging to the cotton as though asking to be born. She planted it.

“A few days after that, a little green shoot came up,” Diez says. She fed the seedling fertilizer, watered it, and bought a grow light from the hardware store. In a few months, Diez says, “I grew a 10-foot-tall tomato plant in our laundry room.”

Read more at Atlas Obscura.

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