|the mostly tame half|
I don't know quite why I persist with the berries although I do love them. They're perennials, and consequently well worth the effort. I love things that come back: memories, friends, berries, purpose, summer, stillness. You'd think I would hate berries, as the berry business sucked down half my youth. Okay. Maybe that's exaggerating. Berry business took half my summers. Summers aren't very long, but they do constitute almost the whole of our "youth," psychically. For the first few weeks of every summer, for as far back as I can remember, I picked strawberries professionally (raspberries too, but that's a story for another day). I don't remember when I first saw a strawberry field, but it must have been when I was about six months old, when I first moved from Saskatchewan to Whatcom County.
Whatcom County is the unheralded berry capitol of the world, or at least my part of it. Living in Whatcom County determined a large part of one's summer-time destiny because ALL of the youths of Whatcom County, all, universally picked strawberries. At 5 AM or so, they would board school buses, school buses they had just, not a week before, stopped boarding for school. But now they were being hauled out to the fields. Some came for the school clothes money. Some came because it was free babysitting and their parents made them. It could be a rough crowd.
|CHERRIES: NOT a Whatcom County fruit|
There were hot days, with the stench of rotting berries wafting out of the rows. There were wet days when the whole world was covered in mud, from strawberries to jeans to faces and hair. I remember the teens, the real teens, a few years older, with their boom boxes and their Killing an Arab Cure (which sparked my love affair with Camus). I remember being harassed by a boy in that field and telling him my brother knew Judo and would beat him up. I got in trouble for that because I'd apparently put my brother in danger as he'd only taken three Judo lessons and those were for SELF-defense, my parents explained. He didn't need me picking fights for him. Nevermind, that I felt I was in danger, enough to pull that obviously empty threat out of my ass. My brother was naturally very gentle and even I knew that no matter what I hoped, sic-ing my brother on the boy was like pointing a brightly colored water gun at a robber. He's just not that kind of person. I guess I wanted to imagine that he, or somebody, would stand up for me, if I needed it. I mean, what WAS the point of having an older brother? Later, he'd help me out plenty, driving me home from school when I was crying too hard for the bus, driving off a shitty boyfriend, helping me move, letting me take refuge in any home he's had. But that wasn't the day.
We'd scooch down the rows, kneeling in front of our buckets, almost like you might barf in it. We'd pick this side, then that, pinching each berry off its stem and skirt with one beautiful, efficient motion. It still chills my spine when I see people just yanking at them, taking the stem with it... it just makes more work for yourself later when you have to de-stem them! And it's so unattractive. We'd each have an assigned row. Maybe someone was on the other end, working to meet you, like strawberry soul mates scooching through life on a gradual, predetermined course to meet your shared destiny. Maybe someone had already picked your row and it was empty, reassigned to you by mistake. Or it hadn't been picked soon enough and was full of rotten berries. And sometimes you'd hit what we called the "Mother Load" and you'd excitedly yell it out to your jealous co-scoochers.
When you thought you had a "flat", you'd take your buckets to the scale and "the puncher" (my mother). You'd gingerly tumble your buckets into the flat and then she'd weigh it. And with her little hole puncher, she'd punch your card. Your card was like a coffee card, manilla, with little rows of 10's and 5's and 1's on it. It would be safety pinned to your father's old flannel shirt you were wearing, or to your hat, if you were cool. These punch cards would indicate how many pounds you picked. And you'd fill it up, and give it to your berry boss. And fill up the next one. All the way to your new clothes. But when shopping, I'd try hard to not think about how many pounds I had to pick and how many days it took me to pick those pounds to buy this or that. If I had allowed myself to think that, I would still have all of that money in savings.
|Pennywhistle Press 1985, me n' my hat, and Cocoa|
|Summer Office of Choice|
|In Seattle, showing off our perfect Jennifer Forland necklaces|
But I was 13 and I took it personally. How could they drop us like hot potatoes? I'd given up the first half of every damn summer vacation FOR THEM, for the Mayberry and Enfield berry billionaires of Whatcom County. They'd gotten rich and built ostentatious mansions out of the summer days of my childhood. And this is how they repayed me? With a lay off notice is the form of cinder block strip houses? Where was my due notice, my severance package?
|Happy 10! Minecraft Style.|