Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Small and Sweet

'Tis the season for reclaiming the 'hood.

Finals are over, apartments are being emptied out and Jackson Ward's true population - those here for more than a few semesters -  gets pared back to its devotees: the musically-inclined scientist, the couple who were original pioneers, the slightly OCD porch painter, the perky dog-walking couple.

All of a sudden, parking spaces reveal themselves where parent-bought vehicles recently occupied valuable real estate. For a change, the VCU circulator vans aren't endlessly circulating outside my open windows.

Practically as soon as the latest rains of May let up, visions of strawberry picking began dancing in my head. Setting my recent mental machinations aside, there's a lot to be said for doing something as simple and honest as picking food from a field, even if it's only 8 pounds' worth.

And if not in May, then not at all, at least in these parts.

At the uncivilized hour of 9:07 (notable in and of itself), I was calling a friend - the one with a fiancee and two kids, so plenty of berry lovers, making him a sure bet to say yes - inviting him to join me for a morning of migrant labor-like activity.

I have plenty of friends I would never think of asking to join me for such a thing, but he's not one of them.

Both of us were flattered when the woman who provided our picking baskets complimented us on our wide-brimmed hats, but once in the fields, we saw that it was more about the novelty value of them than anything else.

Easily 98% of the people out there, adults and children, were hat-less despite the clear sky, bright sun and morning heat. What self-respecting fruit picker doesn't wear a little shade?

I don't want to come across as some sort of expert field hand because I'd never picked a strawberry until I moved to Richmond in '86. For whatever reason, I took to the ritual that led me out of the city every May and got me bent over green rows looking for the reddest berries.

Maybe it's a continuity thing. So much has changed about my life in those three decades, but some habits I hang on to. There's never been a summer where I didn't go stay at the beach. I can't remember the last time I drove over a bridge without having at least one window down, even in winter.

I can't help but acknowledge that picking strawberries satisfies something in me, providing a, what, connection to who I was? Remnant of who I thought I'd be? Excuse to do something mindless and yet productive, so unlike how I earn my living?

Too complicated. Eating warm berries out of the field soothes the soul and stains the fingers.

Does a body good every May.

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