There’s a Strawberry on my Back

April 11, 2012

By Andrea Goto  ·  Photography by Chia Chong  ·  Styled by Libbie Summers

I grew up wanting to work in the fields, a dream my parents deferred my entire childhood.

Every elementary kid did it, or so it seemed.  Each summer a chartered school bus would haul sleepy-eyed kids from their homes to the sprawling strawberry fields just a short 15-minute drive into the county.  While I lazed around watching “Tom and Jerry” and lapping up “toasted rice” cereal, I imagined my schoolmates singing songs and forging friendships in my absence.  I imagined the girls slinging strawberries at the boys I liked—the ones with dimples and long bangs that swept to the side.  I imagined them biting into the meat of the perfect strawberry—the one that tumbled into their fat little hands with only the slightest encouragement.  Anything less than divine was spat out since there was no sense settling for anything less than perfect when standing in God’s garden.

In the late afternoon, those same kids would come back into town smelling syrupy sweet in spite of being covered in stains, sweat and dust.  Their bellies would be full from an abundance of the fresh fruit that my parents insisted on slicing, covering in cupfuls of sugar and stuffing into a strawberry-rhubarb pie.

“Those are for the pie!” Dad would complain when he caught me sneaking the berries that were awaiting their sugar baptism.

Or they were for the shortcake.  Or the jam.  Or they were too expensive to simply eat by the handfuls (my family was never big on logic).  But the point is, the strawberries never seemed to be for me.

I saw strawberry picking as the solution to my deprivation.  It would be like living in the berry version of a gingerbread house—the walls and floors lined with fruit literally ripe for the picking.  I could gorge myself on their shiny dimpled flesh like the fat kid in Willy Wonka land and become the glutton I so dreamed of.

I don’t remember the reason Mom gave for not allowing me to pick strawberries—or if she gave one at all.  At the time, I believed she didn’t want me to “grow up too soon”—a potential danger of working in the fields unsupervised.  There were always rumors of name calling, stolen kisses, and someone vomiting red slush on the bus ride home, but what fueled my fascination probably tampered Mom’s.

Imagine that, preventing your 10-year-old daughter from spending the best days of summer laboring in the hot sun in exchange for just enough money to buy a couple 25-cent cans of generic cola from the vending machine outside the local Kmart at the end of the day.  I know.  Absurd.

Consequently, I have developed a bit of an addiction to strawberries.  Not for the bland and woody imported variety from the grocery.  I’m talking the $12 flats fresh from the farm that start to mold within two days of harvest.  The kind that insist on being eaten immediately and without adornment.  I can eat half a flat in one sitting.

Had my parents put me on the bus destined for the red delicacies, I think my life would’ve been different.  Maybe I would’ve felt more included.  Maybe the boy with the sweepy bangs would’ve loved me back.  Maybe I wouldn’t eat myself sick during strawberry season.

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