Tag Archives: strawberries

Old Friend of the Family

SH-strawberry heartI 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.

Do a bit of good in the world today.

Sweet Heart

Strawberry picking season has just started here in Vermont. Over in Carding, the Tennysons are the ones that raise the red treats for picking, and everyone watches to see when the “Open” sign shows up on the side of the road.

This morning, Christine Tennyson woke up and realized she had forgotten all about the family scarecrow named Roy Rogers. His presence is a tradition at the roadside stand so it’s off to the barn to fetch him.

Here’s a sample of tomorrow’s Carding Chronicle.


SH-strawberry heart

Picking Clean

SH-StrawberriesYou can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Coming Up for Air, will be out later this year.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories will speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.

Please share these with your friends, co-workers, and all the family members that you like best. I understand they go great with morning coffee.

When I was a kid, my grandfather was the man I looked up to and admired most in my life. He was straightforward, honest, worked hard, and treated everyone with respect and courtesy.

When he retired, Grampa expanded his home garden into several acres, growing blueberries, strawberries, corn, and lots of different vegetables. In addition to hoeing and weeding and planting and picking, my cousin and I (being the oldest grandkids) ran his roadside stand.

Grampa taught me that you did more than expected for your customers so they would come back. He taught me that a reputation was precious, and a good reputation the most precious of all.

To this day, every time I pick strawberries or blueberries, I think of him. He inspired this story. It was originally published in the summer of 2016.

Edie Wolfe squinted up at the sky while she waited for her friend Andy Cooper to retrieve their cardboard flats from the back of his pickup. As planned, they were the first customers of the day at the Tennyson strawberry patch so they could pick while it was still cool.

“Good thing we’re getting dew in the mornings or we wouldn’t be getting any water at all,” Andy remarked as he handed one of the pails to Edie. “Can’t believe how dry this summer is.”

She nodded. “Look, the mist has already risen halfway up the trees. Let’s walk over to the eastern corner of the patch. The shade lasts longest there.”

Lee Tennyson smiled at they approached the weighing station then reached down to pick up his eldest son, Scott, planting the child’s feet on a wooden box so he could reach the scale. “What do you say to folks when they come up to you?” Lee prompted.

Scott grinned from one seven-year old ear to the other, showing off the gap where an adult tooth was slowing taking its place in his mouth. “Good morning,” he squealed. “Do you want to pick taw-berries?”

Edie giggled. “I would, yes.”

Scott glanced at his father who nodded encouragement. “Okay, put your flats here.” He pointed to the scale’s platform then turned back to Lee. “What do I do now, Daddy?”

Lee handed him a roll of masking tape. “You tear off a piece of this, and stick it on the outside of the flat.”

Scott spun off a footlong length from the roll and onto his shirt before Lee could intervene. Andy turned away to hide his smile, remembering when his own sons were that size and helping out in his store for the first time.

“What now Daddy?”

“Hmmm, may I provide some assistance?” Edie asked, carefully keeping a serious expression on her face.

“Yeah, sure. Is that okay Daddy?” Scott asked.

Lee nodded. “Oh yes, especially with Edie. She is very good at assistance.”

Edie tore a small piece of tape from Scott’s shirt, and stuck it to the side of her flat. “Now what do I do?” she asked.

“You…you…you put the flat on the scale.” The child suddenly stopped, his whole face tied up in a smile of delight.

“I did,” Lee said, checking the weight of Edie’s flat, and handing his son a marker. “Now, can you put a dot and then a three and a zero on the tape?”

Scott nodded, and applied the tip of his tongue to the corner of his mouth, his eyebrows bunching up over his nose as he slowly marked the tape. Then he handed the cardboard strawberry container to Edie. “Here you are. Pick clean!”

Edie and Andy shared a chuckle as they walked away. “And another Tennyson generation enters the strawberry business,” Andy said.

Edie sighed as she popped a fat berry into her mouth, and squashed it with her tongue. “Pick clean,” she said as they settled at adjacent bushes. The morning mist now floated high above their heads, and a small breeze fussed with the leaves of nearby maples. “Those words always make me think of my grandfather when we picked berries from his patch.”

“Leave no suitable berry behind,” Andy said.

The two friends thumbed fruit from the low-lying plants in a silence unbroken except for the occasional grunt as one or the other of them straightened up to ease their back. Edie’s mind soared a million miles away as she thought about her grandfather’s face, its expression always intent on the job at hand.

Even though David Wolfe had raised his family during the Depression, he never talked about it much. But Edie knew it had shaped his world view. It’s why he gleaned every berry possible from a bush, and fed vegetable scraps to a small clutch of hens he kept in his backyard.

It’s also why, when he had to cut back on his newspaper’s payroll, Grampa Wolfe made sure that every one of his employees got a share of the work that was available.

“You never know what’s going to happen, Edie. Some day you may need help and these folks will remember that,” he’d say. “That’s why it’s important to take care of yourself and your family and your neighbors. We’re all in this together.”

Edie pulled her mind back to the business at hand, and checked the ground near her feet for a good place to kneel. She tried to keep her small “oomph” to herself as she lowered herself to the ground though why she bothered, she had no idea. Andy’s knees weren’t any better than hers, and his groans were always audible.

After a while, she stopped to examine her work site, checking to be sure no berry had been left behind. Edie had spent a lot of time with her grandparents when she was a little girl. Even though she’d admired her Dad, Senator Danielson Wolfe, she cherished her grandfather, and learned her greatest life lessons from him.

Pick it clean = Always do the best job possible.

Be polite = Treat other folks with respect.

Check your math = Make sure you’re honest with other people’s money.

Don’t interrupt = Be sure to listen because you learn more that way.

“How ya doin’?” Andy asked as he reached down to help Edie up.

She brushed her knees then gave her back a stretch. “Got enough for a couple of shortcakes and then some,” she said, indicating her flat full of red fruit.

“Shortcake?” Andy’s whole face turned up.

Edie nodded. “There might be some with your name on it if you bring the ice cream.”

The two friends started back up the path, nodding to neighbors and friends headed in the opposite direction, all of them sporting great lengths of masking tape on their flats.

Andy grinned. “Looks like Scott is getting the hang of the family business.”

Just then, a little girl toddled past, her fingers wrapped firmly in a hand much older than hers. The white-haired man nodded at Edie and Andy as he steered his granddaughter toward the rows that still lay in the shade.

“What does ‘pick clean’ mean, Grampa?” the little girl asked as they passed by.

Strawberry Season

There are two Carding Chronicles this week in honor of strawberry season. These incredible red berries always make me think of my Grandfather Hakala and that is always a reason to celebrate. This Chronicle, called “Picking Clean,” was originally published in the summer of 2016.

Plus, tomorrow is my wedding anniversary. Jay and I have been married for 38 years and that is another reason to celebrate.

Hope you all have a wonderful holiday. The forecast for here in Vermont is for sun which for this summer, is an unusual occurrence.

Strawberry Season!!

Strawberries-2 flats-2014Some folks may think that the 4th of July is THE American holiday for apple pie.

But here in Carding, we know that’s absurd because the first apples are a good eight weeks away.

Nope, one of the annual treks from here is to visit the cool folks (Ann and Pooh Sprague) who own Edgewater Farm in Plainfieild, NH.

It’s a bit of a ride but they have great strawberries and a farm stand and greenhouses and…and…hmmm…

I hear a strawberry shortcake calling my name.

Sorry, gotta go.