Growing Strawberries Again
The bittersweet memories of summer fruits...and motherhood.
Each year, I dreaded Mother’s Day. Most years she would either refuse gifts or, if she opened them, she would give them back in a huff. Sometimes she would retreat to her bedroom in anger or despair. There were no Mother’s Day cards at the store to describe adequately the disappointment, betrayal, and grief I felt about the loss of the mother I had once known.
Around that time, the strawberry patch died. My mother told me strawberry plants only bear fruit for a certain number of years, and so they must be replenished. But my mother stopped planting new, young strawberries. Eventually, the plants stopped bearing fruit.
We three children grew up, went away to college and got married. My mother’s depression deepened. There were no more strawberry pies.
One day, when I was home to visit, I happened to walk into my parents’ bedroom to look for something on their desk. Sitting atop of a pile of papers was the start of a poem, in my mother’s precise grammar school teacher handwriting. The title was “The Strawberry Years Are Gone.”
At the time, it struck me as maudlin and ridiculous. After all, my mother had become a shrew. I hated her for what she had become and what she was doing to us.
By the time I was in my mid-30s, we were all out of the house, and my parents had divorced. My mother was utterly alone. Her hair turned white and began to thin. She was only in her 50s.
But sometimes she would surprise me. Once, when I was having trouble with my elder son, who was in the Terrible Twos, she suggested I put him on a step stool at the kitchen sink and let him play in the water. It worked. She delighted in news that I was planting flowers. She wanted to know what I was cooking for dinner.
Then, 2 ½ years ago, my mother suddenly died of a massive heart attack.
I didn’t miss her, exactly, at first. There was no denying she was a very difficult person. I felt relief that I wouldn’t have to rush to any more emergency rooms, wouldn’t have to worry about her, wouldn’t have to listen to her angry tirades.
Still, she emerged. Like most people in mourning, I felt her presence or saw her shadow or thought I caught a glimpse of her. I would talk to her in my head as I bathed the children or watched them play. I would tell the boys stories of Mistress Mistletoe, a little fairy she made up for me, long before the depression caught hold.