We Want Strawberries!

“I wish I had more hours in my day,” Mom would lament.  So long as there was a needy soul somewhere, Mom felt guilty closing her eyes to rest.  A kind heart and Irish Catholic guilt had fashioned Mom into a works-of-mercy junkie.  Corporal works of mercy, spiritual works of mercy- it was all good so long as it was one of the fourteen.  Her most fulfilling hours were passed within the right arm of Christ.  Mom would make a red-haired doll for a red-haired orphan, help a developmentally delayed 40-year-old named Shirley compose and type letters to Jesus, visit the elderly, and be at the ready to instruct, counsel, and comfort the wandering and lost, which might include her wayward and challenging children.  One thing time rarely allowed was the chance to place flowers on Dad’s grave.  Mom often expressed a desire to tend to that loving errand, but other works of mercy pushed it down the list.  “Honey, sometimes we’ve got to take care of the living and let the dead fend for themselves,” Mom would instruct.

In that spirit, Mom would often bring Grandma A a frozen yogurt from Penguin’s Yogurt Shop.  Grandma loved the vanilla yogurt with sliced strawberries on the top.  The berries always looked ripe and lovely.  One early summer evening, Mom arrived with Penguin’s for Grandma.  The yogurt smelled so nice and trumped the aroma of cheap cafeteria meat that wafted around the corners, an olfactory nuisance signaling dinner at the Thousand Oaks Convalarium.  Mom wrinkled her nose and shook her head disapprovingly.  Rounding the corner, she and Grandma locked eyes, and Grandma’s face lit up.  Her eyes sparkled recognition, and she waved from her seat with her one mobile arm.  When she smiled, her gold tooth showed.   Mom slid in between residents, leaned into Grandma, and hugged her.  She gave Grandma a kiss on the cheek and pulled her face back, arm still around Grandma’s shoulder.  Mom wanted her tri-focals to adjust.

“Hi, Mother,” Mom smiled, “We brought you strawberries.”

“Oooh,” Grandma beamed.  Her voice was gravely from age.  “Sit down. Get a chair.”   Grandma was always eager to have Mom and I sit down.  Standing implied leaving.  It threatened a short stay.  Once we sat, Grandma relaxed.  She was a people person like Mom.

Mom reached for a spoon and maneuvered the lid off the styrofoam cup.  As Grandma ate her first spoonfull, the strawberries were captured by six sets of eyes at the table.  The elderly woman to the right puzzled, “I want strawberries…”  And the white haired, Jewish looking woman across the table complained, “I want strawberries!”  Pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose, a tall, frail gentleman articulated in a loud whisper, “I’d like some strawberries.”  And in a loud, demanding voice, the heavy set woman in the house frock boomed, “We- want- strawberries!”

The initial elderly woman picked up her utensils, grasped them upright, and quietly- more to herself than aloud- began to bang the table, chanting, “We want strawberries!  We want strawberries!”  She was joined and joined and joined again.  One by one and table by table, the strawberry insurrection grew.  Within minutes, the full capacity dining room was roaring in unison. “We want strawberries!”  Elderly fists pumped and palms slammed tables.  There was no way to quiet the movement.  The strawberry mutiny had taken a firm hold.

“We want strawberries!  We want strawberries!”

I looked at Mom, who was laughing so hard she had to wipe away tears.  Her hand touched the table as she rocked forward, trying to compose her laughter.

Grandma smiled and opened her eyes wide in amusement.  Mom whispered, “I guess next time I’d better bring enough for everyone!”

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