This short story was originally published in the September 2009 issue of DOWNHOME magazine.
“What the heck is wrong with you?” my husband asked upon hearing me spit into the kitchen sink.
“That strawberry tasted horrible!” I said, still gagging on the bitter, tasteless gook that remained on my tongue.
My husband chuckled, and then gave me a look that said I should have known better.
I grabbed the pint-sized plastic container and slam-dunked it into the garbage can. I was disgusted by the aftertaste of that awful strawberry; but mostly, I was disgusted at myself for thinking I could actually buy a ripe, juicy, sweet strawberry at the grocery store. They were most likely picked under-ripe from California, ripened somewhere along the way, and by the time it reached the grocery store here in Brampton, Ontario, were overripe. I got a glass of water, went into the living room, and started to reminisce about care-free childhood days picking sweet and juicy berries down home.
They called it Julier’s Field. It was a huge piece of land at the end of the only road in the community of St. Teresa’s, a fifteen minute drive from the Trans-Canada Highway on Route 403 in Newfoundland. The strawberries that grew there were the biggest and sweetest around, and began to ripen around the first week of June, and even though it was quite a distance to walk in the hot summer sun, thinking about that delicious fruit made the trek worthwhile.
Back then, we didn't know strawberries contained malic acid, a natural teeth whitener (no wonder our teeth seemed whiter then), or that they were an excellent source of vitamin C. All we knew was that we were supposed to pick them every day and keep picking them until they were gone. They were mostly used for jams, cakes, pies, tarts, and muffins. However, on occasion, I would see my mom washing her face with the squashed berries. She said it made her skin feel soft and smooth.
My cousin, my aunt, and I would start walking to Julier’s Field just before lunch, and we always knew we were close when we caught the sweet scent of those berries riding on a warm breeze blowing in from the bay. We would look at each other for a moment, and then bolt for the field yelling, screaming, and laughing.
The long walk always made us famished. We’d throw the buckets aside and fall to our knees, picking and eating. After the binge, we’d start filling the buckets. Each bucket contained four quarts, and we each had two buckets. It would take some time to fill them because we had to make sure the berries were cleaned. Our fingers would be stained a bright red that lasted longer than the strawberry season did.
When we were finished, we would hide the buckets in the brush and head to the pond. The water felt refreshing and helped alleviate the stiffness in the legs and back caused by all that bending and stretching. After the swim, we’d head home, where dinner would be waiting for us. For dessert, Mom would let us have strawberries, squashed and topped with a little cream and sugar.
After the strawberry season was over, it was time to pick raspberries, which began to ripen the first week of July. We called them “dirty” berries because there were always tiny insects crawling all over them. Mom said those bugs were good for us, and I’m sure we ate them in the jam, but we hated picking them just the same. We never did get as many raspberries as we did strawberries because we were always on the lookout for those crawly bugs.
Blueberries were the best to pick. They began to ripen around the first week of August and were so plentiful we could grab them off the bush by the handfuls. Blueberries grew everywhere, even in our backyards. If we wanted to pick a cupful before breakfast, we could have fresh berries in our pancakes or cereal. We could have them with ice cream or fresh cream; we could have them with milk as a smoothie or just eat them plain. There was no end to the things we could do with that versatile berry.
I must have been on the sofa for about an hour, reminiscing about those days and those juicy berries. I swore then that I would never again buy berries from the grocery store, no matter how good they looked. I jumped up and went to the phone to call my mom. I told her to get the buckets ready; I was coming home for berry season!
My son, Jacob, and his cousin, Kerstin, keep up the tradition and proudly show their bounty.