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Monday, May 20, 2013

Strawberry Days or what time looks like picking strawberries

We have done a lot of picking over the years.
Every June, for as long as I can remember, I have gone strawberry picking with one family member or another. It started when I was a child, and has continued on through my life. The last twenty-five years or so, it has been with my children and my step-grandmother.

My grandmother and I would confer over the phone, briskly, for she was from the age of: don't talk long on the phone, it costs money. She married my grandfather four weeks before my wedding. Which means, she has been a part of our family for almost thirty-five years.

When the appointed day would arrive, I would pack up my children, maybe a couple of one of my siblings children and drive up to the part of Wisconsin where she lived. When we arrived, she would be standing at the window of the kitchen, watching for us. Allowing only enough time for the children to make a "stop" as she called it, we would then be off for the strawberry patch.

Grandma was tall and willowy, she was always reminding herself to stand up straight. She would wear a broad brim hat, have her gloves and baskets in hand for the days picking. She was not much of a talker, but always made an effort, asking each of whichever great grand child was with us in the car, things she remembered they were interested in.

This is what it looks like.
When we arrived in the patch, which was in the front yard of a house out in the country, we would
disembark and spread out into the rows, Some years it was hot without a breeze, some years it was damp and rainy, some years it was perfect, blue sky, gentle breeze and a few clouds, to take the heat off one's back. The children would eat berries as they picked, with admonishments called out  from me:  "don't eat too many, or put some in the basket so we can make jam when we get home."

Grandma did not admonish, she quietly picked, every once in awhile, looking up at the children and smiling as though, some secret, happy thought was going through her mind,  as she watched the children. Occasionally, she would share a childhood story about how she and her siblings would help her mother pick fruit and make jam.

Love strawberry jam!
It was on these, slow days, I gradually got to know her. She had had a harder life than most and her marriage to my grandfather had turned out to be her port in the storm. He loved her, and while I think sometimes he did not understand her, they were good for and to each other.

After we had picked and eaten our fill, we would pay for the berries and go to lunch. Nothing fancy, as we were all stained with red juice and bit sticky.

During one of these lunches she told me about coming back from the army* in World War 2,  how she took the trains all across the country to see the USA. Growing up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, she had not seen too much, so she took the time after her discharge to do so. I think she said, she went alone, but I might have that wrong.

After lunch, I would drive back to her home, the children would make another "stop" and I would continue on, which is about an hour and half more in the car.

This last week, my daughters and I were saying it is almost strawberry season and it was only a few days later my sister called to say: "grandma died".

Her's looks like this.
Grandma was ninety in March. We all got together and gathered around her to celebrate.  She was particularly pleased by one of her great-grandchildren, who stands six feet nine inches tall,  play the accordion (which had once been her's) for all of us to hear.

 I am grateful for those days we shared, I am richer for them and I hope she was too. I will never pick a strawberry again, without thinking of her, how we grew to know, and love each other. It is funny how much a difference those days made when they are spent together.

For I believe, it is the time we take with each other, slowly adding up over the course of our lives that makes us who we are. For at the end of the day, all we really have, is the sum of how we spend our time, and how we treat one another in the process.

*Actually, today (5/21/13) I found out today at the funeral, I was mistaken, Grandma was in the Navy hospital corps.

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