Growing Strawberries Again
The bittersweet memories of summer fruits...and motherhood.
When I was a girl, my family had a strawberry patch. On early summer mornings, my mother sent me to the back yard to weed the patch and pick the berries. I’d sit there weeding and eating, flapping the bugs away and feeling the chilly dirt.
My mother was a terrific gardener. In addition to strawberries, we grew zucchini, lettuce, rhubarb, beans, and enormous tomatoes. One year we planted and harvested a row of corn. Another year we put in raspberry bushes.
But the strawberries were special.
They ripened in June, and that’s when we celebrated nearly every family event: my mother’s birthday, my parents’ anniversary, Father’s Day, my birthday, and my brother’s birthday. The ripening strawberries were part of the festivities.
For some reason, my birthday was the occasion when strawberries took center stage. As a little girl, I ordered a strawberry cake for my parties. In later years, my mother made strawberry pie for my birthday. It was a simple but miraculous treat: delicate crust, ripe strawberries laced with a small amount of sugar, and homemade whipped cream.
As my mother aged, she became ill with depression. The depression cloaked her, and then it cloaked our house. As the years went by, spring became unbearable. People prone to depression are often sickest in the spring—as the rest of the world awakens to new life, and as the flowers bloom and the strawberries ripen, sad people are frozen in winter.
The family celebrations became a burden. We still had strawberry pie for my birthday, but we bought it from a local bakery. The years went on, and my mother became angry, abusive and cruel. She taunted me and my sister and brother, told us we were “bad kids,” and refused to pay attention to our activities and accomplishments. She would fly into a rage and storm out of the house, or throw our clothes out the front door. She threatened my father with a knife. She told us repeatedly she hated us, was afraid of us, and hated herself.
By the time I was a teenager, my mother would often check herself into a hospital sometime after Mother’s Day to weather the rest of the spring. Later, when I was a young adult, her suicide attempts would frequently happen in the spring.