June has started on the cool side this year, delaying the official start to summer for me: the first day of strawberry season. As soon as I hear that the strawberry field is open, I’ll be there. By midday, two flats of bright red berries will have taken over our refrigerator. By dinner time, eight jars of jam will be on the counter, and as many pints of sugared berries will be in the freezer for snowy days that will eclipse the calendar way too soon. Strawberries are the taste of summer.
I’d tell you I grew up picking strawberries—but the more accurate truth is that I grew up eating strawberries that my dad picked. He loved to pick berries—perhaps because he grew up doing it on the farm and so forever after, picking berries stirred warm memories. Perhaps his sweet tooth’s craving for fresh strawberry shortcake, strawberry sundaes, and bowls of sugared berries motivated him.
Even more than picking berries, though, my dad loved to share berries. He’d get up early, don his yard pants and grubby tennies, and grab his baseball cap from the back hall hook. Before the rest of the house was awake, he’d be on his way to the strawberry patch north of town. By the time we got up, he’d be home with a flat or more of berries . . . summer’s best shade of red. Then the next day he’d go back and pick another flat—and come home by way of my sister’s house, having left the berries with her. He’d take berries to my widowed grandma who lived a mile away. Berries went with him on an annual administrative retreat—along with a tub of ice cream and my mom’s shortcake. If I visited from out of state at the right time, he’d send me on my way home with as many berries as I could eat, freeze, or turn into jam.
Dad also enjoyed sharing the berry-picking experience with anyone willing to get up early enough. While I still lived at home, I sometimes went with him, and in later years, he’d meet my sister at the strawberry patch and pick with her. I quickly tired of kneeling or squatting in the straw-covered dirt paths between rows of berry bushes, but the strawberry sundae at the farm’s market before we headed home never got old.
Even so, when I moved across the country—far beyond the reach of my dad’s free berries—I hunted down a berry farm near my apartment. As soon as the strawberries ripened and U-pick season opened, I was there—picking more berries than any single person could possibly eat. But I picked them anyway.
When I moved to Minnesota a few years later, life got in the way of strawberry season, but in my third summer—the first after Rick and I got married—I went googling to find a strawberry patch near our house. Delighted to find one a mere twenty minutes south, I planned to go as soon as U-pick season opened. Rick offered to go with me, so on Monday morning, we headed out before the sun was very high in the mid-June sky. It was a new experience for Rick, who couldn’t quite understand why we needed two flats of berries.
The truth is, we didn’t. It was more berries than any two people could eat—though I did make jam and freeze several pints of sugared berries, all of which passed their “best by” dates before they finally got out of the freezer.
The next year we decided the process of picking our own berries aggravated my chronic back pain, so we “picked up” berries instead—which we’ve been doing ever since. I still buy more berries than we need, really—but I guess I learned that from my dad. It’s hard to get too much of summer, and nothing says “summer” to me like strawberries. And I suppose, just as strawberry season probably stirred sweet memories for my dad, so it does for me.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.