Strawberry Memories

I grew up picking strawberries. We had a large strawberry patch below our house that was steep and weedy. I spent many hours pulling weeds between the strawberry rows, racing to finish my row so I could go back to watching the Brady Bunch or Fractured Fairy Tales on TV. 

My Mom and Dad supplemented strawberry sales to help put food on the table. My Dad worked construction and my Mom stayed home with a girl and four boys. Selling strawberries and tomatoes, shucking corn, digging potatoes, breaking beans and shelling pees - these were normal rituals in the spring and summer on our Ozark Mountain spread. 

We would get paid a dime a quart we picked, and later remember getting a healthy raise to a quarter a quart. Money saved would usually be used for trips to Dave Orr's grocery or baseball cards purchased at the Piggly Wiggly. 

The smell of the strawberries was intoxicating. My ratio of picking to eating the berries was usually three berries in the box, one in my mouth, and one thrown at a brother. On one misguided moment, I thought it would be fun to nail my Mom with a berry while she was bent over in front of me. A quick smack in her rear brought a quick response, "Greg, don't do THAT!"  I tried not to laugh, but failed.

I loved the large crates which held 16 quart boxes. Folks from all over the Branson, Rockaway Beach and Reeds Spring area would drive to our house ten miles north of Branson to get their prized berries. Mom and Dad always made sure we filled the berries over the top of the quart boxes. They were always insistent on giving folks a fair deal. 

During berry picking season, Mom would bake pie crust to eat with freshly crushed pickings. Goodness, I never tired the taste of cooled strawberries poured over hot pie crust. On some occasions, we got the bonus treat of ice cream on top. A cold glass of milk in a mason jar completed the tastebud masterpiece.

Picking strawberries was hard work. bending over in the warm or hot late spring sun, taking careful steps so as not to crush berries or runners, and taking care to not miss any berries while picking took concentration and a keen eye. Mom could always walk behind where I picked and come up with another quart or two. 

We don't have strawberries anymore. Mom passed away last May, and Dad is now 81 and moving slower. We are going to have some tomatoes and just yesterday he tied the young plants to wire to give them support against the wind. Tomatoes just don't smell as good as strawberries, though. I miss the smell, I miss the sounds of us laughing, yelling and chatting while picking. I miss the folks coming over and talking with my parents. I miss the fresh berries and crust at night while watching the Carol Burnett Show or Happy Days. 

I think this year I'll find a place that allows you to pick your own strawberries. It will be good to pick three, eat one, and toss one again!

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