Strawberry Fields Forever?

Recently, I opened a Flickr file of photos, developed from forgotten negatives recently discovered in my mother’s basement closet. Childhood memories spilled out, especially one evoked by a photo of myself sitting on a fence post by a farmer’s field.

It was 1956 and the summer sun had descended towards distant trees on the western boundary of a vast field. The pickers had left for the day. After a quick surveillance, I climbed the fence separating my backyard from acres of ripe strawberries and scurried out of my mother’s sight at the kitchen window. Then I wandered along until I deemed it safe to harvest the plentiful fruit. I squatted in a row and picked berries until they stained my fingers red and filled my belly to bursting. Day after day I partook in this ritual, never bringing a strawberry home, always hoping my mother wouldn’t notice the tell-tale signs of my orgies. Truly, she must have, but I cannot remember her displeasure at my obvious greed, only the bountiful blessing of those berries free for the taking.

Decades later, on a June day, I unwittingly found myself partaking in a similar feeding frenzy. I had cut across my neighbour’s yard and unleashed my dog to run along the dirt road. Just beyond a hidden creek, another farmer’s field stretched to the woods. Its white sign with faded letters “Strawberries – Pick & Pay” pointed towards long rows of ripening fruit. When I neared them, seagulls lifted and cawed their displeasure. With a backwards glance, I bent and located a cluster of ripe berries, skins red and shiny from the night’s rain. In seconds, my mouth filled with surplus juice. Chester caught up and ambled down the row to strawberries that tumbled off the plants. I reached into my pocket for the doggie bag and picked two, three berries at a time, discarding ones the gulls had pecked. The bag filled up. I settled on straw next to a cluster of even bigger berries and, one after another, devoured them. Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed a fluffy tail dusting weeds a few rows over. Reassured, I ate until I was saturated with fruit. Then I filled a second bag until it barely closed. Satiated and perhaps dazed, I whistled for Chester and we headed slowly home down the dusty road. (For the record, I did pay for those berries.)

Soon strawberry season 2020 will arrive. I wonder how buying or picking this sun-ripened treat will change in this pandemic. No longer having the where-with-all to bend over rows of strawberries, I pray the local farmer’s stand will still offer boxes brimming with berries. But will there be pickers to harvest them? Or a friendly face to sell them? Will cash be accepted? Or will I have to order online? Once I pull into the parking lot, will there be lines spacing customers? Or gloved hands depositing pre-paid berries into my trunk? If the farmer wears a mask, will we be able to chat about the weather or the size and sweetness of the berries? Or will it only be a ‘hi and bye’ exchange?
Wearing a mask to buy strawberries and sanitizing my hands in the car will not be fun. Foregoing the pleasure of immediately popping them into my mouth will definitely be a disappointment. And, to top it off, storing them in the frig overnight, just in case…., will almost be a sacrilege, for as everyone knows, day old strawberries are not the same. Sigh…such are the times. Hopefully not forever.

(this piece was originally published in Our Pandemic Times)

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