Spring in Central Florida means many delights; but one of the best is fresh strawberries. When our children were young and early spring arrived, we would pack up a small lunch and some water. Then we’d pile into a car with some friends; and we’d all head for the strawberry fields. In the morning, while the dew was still on the berries, the children and I would pick enough strawberries to eat and freeze.
For anyone who has worked in the fields, you know that the exquisitely satisfying part of harvesting berries is sampling the luscious sweetness while bending over the fruit laden plants. You don’t ever take home the largest, reddest and plumpest strawberries. Those are eaten in the fields.
Last month, my daughter, Carol, was speaking at a conference in Tampa. She arranged to visit with us for a few days because she wanted to be with her ailing father. As she and I traveled from Tampa to the East Coast, we passed a strawberry farm. The harvesters’ large straw hats were the only part of their heads that was visible as they bend over the plants hurriedly picking the ripened fruit.
We spied the farm’s roadside stand. Quickly wheeling the van into the parking lot, we stopped to purchase a crate of berries. When berries have slept in the fields the night before, you don’t get one or two quarts. Twelve quarts are the minimum.
Giggling like two children who’d uncover a chest of gold nuggets, we climbed back into the vehicle, munching our treasure all the way home. The juice ran down our fingers and onto our wrist. We laughed, trying to lap up every escaping drop.
That road trip was the beginning of what has become a sorrowful but surprisingly joyful adventure for our family. The day before, I learned that my husband’s diagnosis was “adult failure to thrive.” In short, his body had moved from terminally ill into the dying process. All of the family has come now to say good-bye to their father and grandfather.
He has suffered from dementia for about 15 years. We became accustomed to his forgetful ways. Yet, during these precious, holy days, he has slowly slipped closer to eternity. This morning when I went into his room, I knew that he didn’t recognize me. Because his aide was there, I didn’t ask him questions. I left the house at 7am for my work and I didn’t return until 7pm.
After his caregiver had left, I tiptoed into his room and kissed him hello. Again, the vacant, yet, confused and slightly frightened look stared at me. I smiled and asked in a chipper voice, “You don’t know who I am, do you?”
The fear melted and he shook his head, “No.”
“I’m your wife of almost 50 years and you really should remember me,” I said, laughing.
With his eyes closed, he returned my laughter with his own.
I continued to tease him, “I have pictures to prove that we are married. We have three wonderful children and four amazing grandchildren. Guess you don’t remember them either.”
He opened his eyes grinning with pleasure but he shook his head, ‘No.”
“You are an engineer, who worked for NASA. You had five inventions and you designed a lot of the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen piping on the shuttle. You helped put the men on the moon and no one can take that away from you. In short, you are a pretty amazing man.” He smiled.
“Do you remember Jesus?” I probed deeper.
Again, he smiled, but with a broader grin. “Oh, yes, I do,” he whispered to me.
“That’s the only person you need to remember,” I said, taking his hand in mine. He tried to smile as he traveled back into his semi-conscious state. When I returned to his room about an hour later, he was smiling.
On the afternoon we bought the strawberries, before the fruit could go bad, I prepared several quarts of the berries to freeze. They sit in my freezer at the top of the fruit section. Each time I open the freezer they sit waiting for me, still red and inviting.
I’ll eat those berries while they are still frozen in a few days or a week or month from now. I’ll taste the ripe goodness locked in by the cold. I won’t eat them in one session but one berry each night. I’ll make them last as long as I can and I’ll remember this lovely time. But I’m waiting now–waiting until this adventure is over and my husband has gone home to be with the Jesus he still remembers.