For as long as I can remember, strawberries have made me think of my mother. Sometimes this was good, and sometimes it was with disdain. But still, 30 years have passed with the connection remaining secure.
For the entirety of my childhood, my mother had one theme for her kitchen décor: Strawberries. And yes, I was born in the 80’s, and it was totally tubular. There were strawberry nik-naks, strawberry salt and pepper shakers, strawberry dish towels, and a strawberry cookie jar, just to name a few. Our address changed many times, but the theme remained the same. Whether in Washington, Nevada, or Arizona, my earliest memories were all strung together with green vines, and ripe faux little berries.
To this day, whenever I see assorted strawberry paraphernalia, I consider buying it for my mother. Which is ridiculous, because her kitchen is no longer a field of animated strawberry tchotchkes. In their place, all things blue and white, and Currier and Ives, find their way to a second lease on life. Or possibly, a first, but only if the price is right. The thriftiness in my family is as much a part of our DNA as blonde hair is for other families.
And yet, those darn strawberries still mean so much to me. They mean the kitchen, where I pretended to be Cinderella, doing yet another round of chores while I waited for my prince to come. They mean the place where my mother spent hours stretching our meager grocery budget, by making almost everything from scratch, day in and day out, for our family of five. She did this, in spite of our complaining about how magical our friends had it at their houses, where they ate sugar cereal for breakfast, not coffee cake, popovers, or homemade biscuits everyday.
They mean the place where we made the cookies we so often baked and decorated together, homemade bread warming up our house and oven in the winter, and the shelf that held all my favorite cups.
Quite simply, strawberries remind me of home.
And not so simply, they remind me of my mother.
My mother. Our relationship is anything but simple. It has been a journey fraught with perilous roads, heart-wrenching cracks, and twists and turns that neither of us saw coming. And yet, there has been laughter. There has been joy, and inside jokes, and the deeply personal bond of understanding that can only be achieved with the one who bore you, and continues to bear you up, even in the toughest of times. Maybe, for us, especially in the toughest of times.
I am 35 years old. I have a husband and children of my own. I have the most amazing friends to ever walk on planet earth. I have a job I love, and causes that I really believe in. If I need it, I have it. And yet… and yet, sometimes, I still just need my mom.
I remember in high school, when I was at the peak of my distancing myself from my parents. I was years ahead of most of my friends in this, and barely even spoke to the people who brought me into this world. I worked so hard, and paid for my own things. School clothes, senior pictures, bus fare, you name it. I felt so very independent. That is, until I had some crazy combination of strep throat and pneumonia. And all I wanted was for my mom to take care of me.
As deep as our relationship was fractured, she did it. She read to me, and made me soup, and sat by my bed until I fell asleep. It was the best time I have ever had while being sick. Of course, I couldn’t tell my friends this. Or her. I didn’t want people to think that I actually needed my mother. But I did. And, I still do.
She is an amazing and complicated woman. She is beautiful, and hard working. She has a quick wit, and sharp memory. She pays more attention to the detail of her outfits and matching jewelry every day, than most people do to their wedding ensemble. She is sensitive, and soft hearted. She is stronger than she believes she is. She is a fighter. She cares deeply, and thinks too much. She needs reminders that she matters, and that she is truly loved. She is an amazing dancer, and can keep rhythm with the best of them. She loves art, and words, and history. She colored for fun, before it was trendy again. She has a beautiful singing voice, especially when she thinks no one else can hear her. She cries easily, and remembers movie quotes from 30 years ago, laughing every time she repeats them, as if it was the first. She has taught me more about holding on, than I could tell you in my lifetime.
She is not perfect. But she is mine.
Some people, believe it or not, do not like strawberries. I’ve heard from friends that they just can’t get past the seeds. I disagree. I love strawberries. I admire their ability to grow, in even the most shallow of soil. I love their color, their shape, and their bright appearance. I love that they know how to keep going, though their vines hang heavy in summer with weighted fatigue. I love how they refresh others, how they are distinguished, how they bring joy to my children, and to me. I find, that their goodness overtakes all the other parts. That the stem gives me something to hold onto. And how maybe, the hard bits help me appreciate what is sweet.