Early memories are difficult for me. Not because they were too painful to remember or too ugly to forget, but simply because I have a terrible memory. In Writing Life Stories, Roorbach gives the writing exercise of drawing a map of your earliest remembered neighborhood. Mine would be from when we lived on River Street in Newberg, Oregon.
When I was young, maybe 12, I started picking strawberries in the summer. It was a way to make some money so we could afford school clothes for me and it gave me something to do. I don’t remember ever really looking forward to it, but I don’t remember hating it either. Not surprising how little my memory holds anyway.
In the cool summer morning, with dew still covering the grass, I’d walk down to the 9th Street Grocery, affectionately known as the little store, and plop my booty down on the curb. I’d try to avoid the wet grass but more often than not, I’d have a little stripe of damp across my rear by the time the bus arrived. It was a full-size yellow school bus, already filled with other kids earning summer money. I’d grab my lunch sack and off we’d go to the strawberry fields.
The dew would still be all over the fields as well, so those first few morning hours, before the sun could burn off the cool, the moisture would linger over the strawberry plants. My sleeves would be soaked despite my best efforts to get them pulled up.
I’d nab a stripe of plants as my own and shoving the plastic crate down the tilled path between rows, plunge my hands into the wet plants and pull out any and all reddened strawberries I could find then toss them gently into the crate. Inching along, bent at the waist with my face just above the leaves, I’d collect as many as I could then move on to the next row. When my back would ache, I’d bend at the knees for a while, but it was slower and less productive.
Until early afternoon I’d work in the fields, filling the crate as full as I could before taking it in to weigh. They’d tally it up and by the end of the day, I’d go home with some cash in hand. Never much; I wasn’t fast like some of the others. But it was enough for school clothes and candy from the little store.