June is strawberry season in our area. Just the thought of biting into a big red freshly picked berry, its sweet-tart juice running down my chin, begins to make my mouth water.
We have plenty of U Pick 'Em places around town. The plants are neatly arranged in rows of mounded soil that has been covered with anti-weed plastic and mulched with straw to keep the pickers from getting too dirty if they kneel to pick the berries. Those fields are nice, but my favorite field of strawberries will always be the one my grandmother planted just before she died.
Our house was right next to my grandparent's farm-actually it was on a piece of land my grandfather had given my father. My bedroom window looked over fields that were overgrown with weeds since my grandfather had retired from farming.
I'm not sure what led my mother to the patch of strawberries years after my grandmother's death. It was quite a walk back to where she had planted it. Perhaps Mom was out wandering, taking a break from her two young children, when she discovered it. I think I was about six or seven years old when she first took me there.
We walked along a path where a layer of shale kept the weeds from growing up. The weeds on either side of the path towered above me but I wasn't afraid. Hand in hand, my mother and I followed the smooth trail of rocks. In my other hand, I swung a little basket, soon to be filled with delicious wonders.
Even though the patch had been neglected for years, the strawberries yielded a bumper crop. Some of the berries were so large, they filled the palm of my hand. Mom and I would pick and eat. She taught me that nothing was sweeter or more delicious than the fruit fresh from the plant.
"How did the strawberries get here?" I asked when I was old enough to realize a strawberry patch doesn't just happen.
"Grandma Cerny planted it a long time ago," my mother replied.
I didn't remember my grandmother. She died when I was two. But her legacy lived on in that field. The strawberry patch connected me with a person I could only imagine. She gave my mother and me a great gift. The patch was our secret place. Mom and I never told anyone where she got the wonderful berries that made her strawberry jam so tasty.
The fields are gone now. Suburbia encroached until all the farmland around us yielded houses. Here and there tucked in a "secret" little corner of the suburbs is a small field and a sign, "U Pick 'Em."
Each year I go and pick berries and make jam. The strawberries aren't nearly as large or sweet-but then my hand is bigger and my memories are sweeter.
©2005 Karen Robbins
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