The rows of strawberries stretched on forever, long ribbons of black and green, with serrated leaves and heart-shaped pops of red. Runners shot out and away from their mothers, landing in the soil between the established plants, and rooting where no berry had ever grown before in an exciting bid for independence.
Dark soil was carefully tilled between the rows in a continual fight against the weeds that desperately wanted the same nutrients, water, and sun as the berry plants. The prickly purple thistle and milkweed and ragweed remained blissfully unaware of their uninvited status as they continued to show up with friends and family only to be pulled and discarded, again and again.
This field was my first place of employment; my brother was my (only) coworker, and our mother was the site supervisor. Begrudgingly, we learned to till and turn the soil, to plant and pick strawberries. We learned how to quiet our minds and settle in to do the work. Quart after quart basket of strawberries passed through my red-stained fingers as I grumbled about the things I would rather be doing.
It wasn’t that the work was hard, it was, in fact, easy to pluck a strawberry from the plant and put it into a basket. The hard part was to do it for an hour and then another hour. It was overcoming the boredom and tedium of doing the exact same thing over and over in the hot Indiana summer sun. I hated every morning that there were strawberries in the field. I prayed for rain and thunder and lightning, especially lightening, if only to strike me with a bolt to end my strawberry picking misery.
Yet, now when I think of summers growing up, it always starts in the field, wiping the sweat from my brow, feeling the perspiration drip from the tip of my nose and chin and run down my chest. I recall my brother, in one of his protests, selecting a particularly fat and rotten berry, lining up his sights and launching it directly at our mother’s back where it landed with the most perfectly spectacular splat between the straps of her tank top.
Now, the field is a dumping ground for old construction equipment. The old farmhouse is long gone, burned to the ground, rebuilt without a single bit of the original character. And the strawberry pickers are scattered around the world, left to reminisce about the old days and time spent together.