I know there are folks who have already picked their seasonal strawberries but up here in Vermont, the picking season is just getting underway.
This time of year is laden with childhood memories for me. When my grandfather (Gus Hakala) retired, he tilled up approximately five acres of field to plant berries and vegetable to sell in a roadside stand.
Of all the people in my extended family, I consider him my greatest teacher. He worked hard, treated his customers well, made sure that everything he sold was of the highest quality, and was fair to everyone.
He was rather quiet, unassuming, practical, the epitome of a man who lived his beliefs instead of talking about them.
The first cash crop of the year was strawberries, and this was before the idea of pick-your-own was fashionable. So all the family members pitched in to help out.
To this day, when I pluck that first sweet berry and pop it in my mouth, I do it in memory of him.
In Carding, it’s the Tennyson family who raises strawberries for local picking and today is opening day.
I hope you enjoy this Carding Chronicle.
The sun was still thinking about getting up when Christine Tennyson padded into the big barn in her rubber boots. She loved the solitude of early morning, the time of day that’s so full of peace and promise.
She knew the animals were aware of her presence—the hens dozing in their coop, the goats stirring in their hay beds, the cats patrolling for mice among the rafters—but they made no demands on her. Later, when the sun got a bit higher, their infamous goat, Houdini, would rouse his harem of nannies and their kids, and demand that someone open the barnyard gate so he could take them up to his favorite summertime pasture. Then, after a late breakfast, the flock would retire to the shady spots at the edge of the field to wait out the heat of the afternoon before descending to sleep in the barn again.
Christine was glad the “Alpha Billy,” as she liked to call the obstreperous goat, had decided to keep his ladies and their children in the barn at night. She guessed that her husband, Lee, wasn’t the only one who’d heard the coyotes up in the woods.
Still clutching her large cup of honeyed tea, she climbed the open steps to the loft where they stored the farm’s sales paraphernalia—signs, cash boxes, wooden tables, event tents, canvas aprons, and the like. The whole family—Christine, Lee, and their two boys, Scott and Little Freddie—had spent all of yesterday dragging out the “You-Pick Strawberries” sign to the large field, setting up tables under their event tent, and stacking white cardboard flats.
Being five months pregnant—Christine was sure it was a little girl this time—she paused at the top of the stairs to catch her breath and let her eyes adjust to the dusky light that filtered through the chinks in the walls. She felt a little bad that she hadn’t remembered the scarecrow until this morning, and even though the idea was a bit silly, she hoped that Roy’s feelings weren’t hurt.
He was named Roy for Roy Rogers because that’s how old the scarecrow was. His first cowboy hat was long gone, and Christine had finally replaced his flannel shirt last year. But the stuffed blue jeans were original, the final resting place for a pair worn by Lee’s Uncle Cedric from when he was a teenager.
Toeing her way toward the old trunk against the back wall, Christine heard a purr, and the boss cat, Big Yeller, jumped up on an old chair to ask for a back scratch. She was happy to comply, scooping the cat up to hold him against her chest. There was nothing quite like the sensation of a deep purr, and the tabby was happy to comply with Christine’s silent request.
She felt her baby roll over, obviously intrigued by the sensation, and the three of them took a moment to enjoy the pleasure together. Then the cat squirmed—he’d had enough—and Christine reached him down to the floor.
“Okay,” she whispered to the growing light, “let’s see how Roy fared over the winter.”
The trunk’s lid creaked as she pulled it up, raising a cloud of dust. She let it settle, and then hooked her hands under the scarecrow’s arms. Roy’s head bobbled—he needed more stuffing—but his embroidered smile was intact. Christine carefully prodded its large black-button eyes to make sure they were secure, and one popped off in her hand.
“Well, if that’s the only thing you need, that’s not bad,” she told Roy.
“Chris, are you in here?” It was Lee, standing in the open barn door.
His boots clattered across the floor, and then the face she loved more than any other popped up in the stairway’s opening. “What in the world are you…? Oh, Roy. Of course.”
“Can’t start the picking season without him,” Christine said as she handed the scarecrow off to her husband.
“Hmph, yeah, the birds would have to find another perch,” Lee said.
“Hey, hey, don’t say that,” Chris said. “You and I both know that’s not his job.” Her hand reached out to find the railing before she set foot on the steps. They were worn and irregular, and she knew Lee was watching to make sure she didn’t fall.
When they reached the barnyard, Lee stopped to take a close look at the aged scarecrow. “You have to admit that us Tennysons have some strange family heirlooms,” he said. “Hey, one of his eyes is missing.”
“In my pocket,” Christine said. “Why don’t you put him in the truck while I get a needle and thread?”
Lee smiled at her then hoisted the bobble-headed Roy over his shoulder. Christine turned toward the house but then her head whipped around. It must have been a trick of the light but she swore that the scarecrow had winked at her.
She knew all about the Tennyson family’s myths and legends, about magical Christmas trees and the like. There was something about the old family farm that just seemed to inspire tales of the bewitching sort. But a winking scarecrow? Seriously?
But then one of Roy’s arms rose higher than the other, and he waved at her. There was no denying it. Christine felt a pleasant chill slither over her shoulders, and she glanced around expecting…what?
Houdini bleated in the distance, and she heard the mutter of hens rising from their evening roosts. Christine drew in a rather large amount of the cool morning air, and laughed at herself.
“Okay Roy,” she said as she fingered the button in her pocket. “We’re going to keep this one strictly between ourselves, okay?”
I’m so glad you’ve stopped by to enjoy this Carding Chronicle . Please share it with your friends and be sure to subscribe to my website so that you won’t miss the next story.
If you would like to get in touch, my email address is: Sonja@SonjaHakala.com.
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