It’s difficult to fathom how to commemorate some of the dates and occasions which unsettle the subconscious and make one feel the pull of shadows of scenes past.
One of those is the anniversary of a death. My clever plethora of sisters-in-law found a way to observe the day, sending a mountain of strawberries –ahead of their time here, outlandishly outsized and vivid and bright and sweet, as was our Jim.
This time the children and I, who had raised and clinked water bottles on a mountain top for Father’s Day without him, toasted him with strawberries.
As the family memory keeper from our children’s pre-verbal years, it occurred to me that summer fruits are not as quotidian as one might think. They are part of the extraordinary ordinary, carrying soothing pictures with them: picking strawberries in a field with our visiting California friends and their little girls when both of us had one toddler and one infant (between us we added another five children); guanabana in Ecuador (a rich fruit that, as one son observed, is neither iguana nor banana-flavored); Jim kneeling in our garden and instructing our youngest daughter, in a pale yellow dress of puckered cotton, in the fine art of cultivating strawberries and raspberries, blueberries and grapes; Jim planting and caring for fruit trees which still sink with the weight of pears and apples and impossibly juicy peaches; discovering as a newlywed that although I could not cook for the life of me, I could manage to get fresh strawberries to dip in sour cream and dust with brown sugar.
One of my sisters-in-law recalls that Jim’s high school yearbook quote was about making lemonade when life hands you lemons.
(Mine was about rebels and tilting at windmills; Jim and I always did have quite the yin and yang going.)
How many people live by their high school yearbook quotes?
Jim did, no matter what life cruelly threw his way.
“A genius is a man who takes the lemons that Fate hands him and starts a lemonade stand with them,” according to Elbert Hubbard.
The sentiment has been rendered more pithily in the intervening years, the way it came to my husband’s attention when he was a teenager: “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”
Along with fate’s cruelties, he never doubted that life had handed him a heaping plate of chocolate-covered strawberries as well.
Thank you, sisters.