My mom says that my love affair with strawberries began when I was just a toddler. And as hot, sordid affairs most always begin, mine began in scandalous over-indulgence.
As the story goes, my Grandma Martin took me out one summer morning to her vast Michigan strawberry fields to pick strawberries. Innocent enough. My grandmother believed that there is magic in the ground we farm, and that magic sprouts blessed harvests. And my Grandma Martin knew the promises and the rewards of her soil. Especially in her luscious strawberries.
So off we went. Grandma Martin. Her baskets. And me toddling behind, wearing the great big calico sun bonnet that she had made just for me.
As my mom tells it, it seems that my grandmother then simply let me delight in the budding curiosities of childhood. In other words, what might a strawberry or two or fifteen look like if squished between my fingers? How many strawberries would fit in one sun bonnet? And… just how many sweet, ripe, luxuriously red strawberries could one child eat?
Ah. I don’t remember the squishing or the bonnet stuffing, but I do remember the eating. I remember my grandma showing me how to lift the velvety green leaves aside to find the red treasure beneath. I remember the cool earth and the rows upon rows upon rows of green velvet. I remember my grandma’s nimble fingers showing me the magic beneath. And I remember eating the strawberries, one after another. I swear they were as big as my fist.
I remember holding my Grandma Martin’s hand as we walked through the fields back to the farm house. She carried one huge basket filled with strawberries in her other hand. And I remember her telling my grandpa that she had left full baskets in the strawberry fields that needed to be picked up. He would do that later… with his tractor.
And I remember being the princess of strawberries that day.
My grandma pulled a chair up to her big sink basin and let me help her wash the strawberries. I helped her fill small baskets that she would sell at her roadside fruit and vegetable stand. And she let me line up the rest of the strawberries as she sliced them… swiftly, but beautifully… for dessert that night.
Of all things in my lifetime, my strawberry memories on the Michigan farm with my Grandma Martin would be the ones that formed and shaped me. Perhaps it was the fresh air. The summer sun. The holding of my hand. The sun bonnets. The kitchen basin. The always-like-it-was-the-first-time discovery of the red fruit beneath the velvet. It was all about family. Generations. Love. And her strawberries.
Those strawberries. My love affair with strawberries.
Now, I eat strawberries on ice cream. In yogurt. On pies and cakes. Smothering shortcake.
And big, ripe whole. Just like on the day I fell in love. The day my Grandma Martin let me value the price and innocence of my childhood in the juicy deliciousness of a strawberry or two or fifteen.
I hear this year is a bumper crop year for strawberries.
I am sure my Grandma Martin is watching closely as she tends the fields in heaven. And each time I touch a strawberry, especially when I am with my grandchildren… I know she is watching.
OK. Next time, I will let them devour a strawberry or two or fifteen… and if they are as lucky as I am, the love affair will continue into another generation.
Thank you, Grandma. Thank you for the greatest gift of all… treasured memories.
And oh, yeah. A love affair with strawberries!
ps On my wrist, I have a tattoo… 2 luscious strawberries with green velvety leaves. This honors my Grandma Martin, and reminds me each day to retain a great big piece of childhood.