This week I accepted an invitation to walk on holy ground. I have never been so honored. My aunt and uncle were out of town, and in their absence, I was invited to pick from their well-established, massive, sacred strawberry bed.
As my basket filled, I was flooded with memories of days gone by. Big gardens and simpler times. When I was growing up, both sets of my grandparents had huge strawberry beds…just like the one I picked from this week. One of my grandmas had TWO beds—one to the north of the house and one to the west. She picked twice a day from June 5th through the end of the season, usually around July 4th. Sometimes we ate them as fast as she could pick them, and she never once told us we couldn’t!
Strawberries were not a stand-alone harvest. Peas, radishes, green beans, strawberries, peppers, tomatoes, onions, sweet corn, and lettuce—all fresh right out of the garden every day of the week during the growing season. And everything that was picked needed tended to that day. Washed, refrigerated, stemmed, snapped, etc. Nothing went to waste. It was a busy time, and everyone pitched in.
I stood at my kitchen sink the night before stemming my basket of strawberries. I tried using a pairing knife identical to the one my maternal grandmother used. It took too much of the berry. I switched to my mom’s special “strawberry stemmer tool,”, which looked like tiny tongs. They didn’t work either. I finally resorted to my paternal grandmother’s method–just use my thumbnail and forefinger. I could feel the stem and pop it out without any trouble at all. Three days later my fingers are still stained and I wear the stains to work with pride.
When I grew up and became a mom, I started my own big garden in southern Iowa. I didn’t have family close by, so I often picked my peas or beans, then put them in the car and drove an hour and a half to my hometown where there were always extra hands to help snap, freeze, or can. One summer in the late 1990s, cousins from both Indiana and New Mexico were visiting the Iowa farm. I showed up with three farm kids, a big yellow Labrador, and two five-gallon buckets of freshly picked green beans.
No one batted an eye. Gram started dragging those old metal lawn chairs into the shade of the orchard east of the house. Everyone gathered. With instant Nestea in hand (containing enough sugar we almost chewed the tea), and willing hearts, the sisters, cousins, and aunts arranged the chairs into a circle.
Time flew and laughter flooded the yard. We had both buckets of beans snapped in no time. The next day my mom helped me can forty-five quarts of green beans. Alone, I was overwhelmed. But together we knocked out those beans while we visited and shared our lives.
Sacred times. Holy moments. Irreplaceable memories. These are the memories of my childhood that grew into my adulthood. I still garden, although on a much smaller scale. Picking strawberries this week took me back to those blessed loved ones. Some have passed on into Life Eternal and I miss them like crazy. Their life lessons are evident in my daily routines and seasonal habits. They are forever present in my rich past, teaching and shaping the woman I am still becoming. The rest of us live miles and miles apart and connect through texts and emails.
Seasons change and life continues. I count it all blessing, and treasure every minute in my heart.
Living Life Changed, ~Judith Kay