For seven summers, from the age of seven, I picked raspberries with my mom and two brothers. My mom cleaned houses and offices from September to June, and in the summer, family in tow, picked raspberries. Rows and rows of bushes that needed to be plucked clean for farmers. I hated picking raspberries.
My mom woke us each morning just as the sky began its transformation from night to sunrise, awash in orange and pink. Yawning and shivering in the misty dawn, we made our way to the field of farmers I only knew by last name; buckets tied around our waists, coolers of food and blankets in hand. We found our rows by the numbers on the posts and claimed our spots. My mom at the beginning of the row, me at the end, my brothers in the middle. My mom was quick, her hands lined by hard work, she was a machine. She led and loved us with her efficiency, her preparedness. If it rained she brought garbage bags and cut out holes for heads and hands. We slipped them on over our clothes and continued picking. She laid out a blanket for us in the shade where we took refuge when it was too hot, too much. She doled out food and warnings. “Just for a little while and then back to work.” “Okay, mom.” If we were quiet we could stretch out our reprieve. My brothers and I drank apple juice, dug out worms, ate homemade cookies and smashed raspberries between crackers.
The sun hot on my neck, I lifted branches and leaves to pick-pick berries. Fingers stained red, juice running down my arms, I created a game to amuse me. This cluster of berries to the right is a family. The isolated berry nestled in the bush is lonely and it’s pleased to join the others. Low, low on the bush they didn’t see me coming… Gotcha! A few berries begged, “Please, eat me!” “No!” I shout. “You’re too mushy!” Some are sad to be taken, not wanting to leave home. They’ve never been anywhere else! They scream and cry as I send them to the bucket. Once my bucket was full, straining the thick twine at my waist, I emptied the berries into a plastic flat which would be lifted and stacked with many flats, then loaded onto a truck. Roaring to life, the truck rumbled as it drove the unaware and ill-informed raspberries to be sorted and squished, their destinies fulfilled as they became juice and jam.
When I shut my eyes at the end of each day to sleep, dark green leaves holding red berries were all I could see, like they were stitched to the backs of my eyelids. My hands smelled sickly sweet even in my dreams. While others kids played at home, in yards and playgrounds, we were in the fields working. There were moments of freedom; of picnic lunches, and jumping on trampolines slippery with water and soap and no safety nets. We earned money. I learned diligence and discipline. I learned how to work all those summers with my mom and when the season was over we put our money into bank accounts. She said, “You’ll do this with your kids one day.” In my head I was emphatic I will not.
As my kids and I drove up to a farm today, the tires crunching on the gravel road, acres of berries in front of us and people pick-picking, my kids asked, “Can we pick?” I laughed, “No way! You and your dad can do that.”
I parked the car, shuddered at the rows and rows of raspberries and strawberries, walked into the cool store and bought my berries in neat, tidy baskets.
After being on a brief blog hiatus, I’m hanging out with yeahwrite this week, lounging and eating my picked-by-someone-else berries.