Strawberry Fields of Dreams

Berry Montage

Montage from pictures courtesy of Joe Fekete’s Family Farm and Frank Fekete Farm

By:  Richard Haydel

The Sun rose in the brilliant blue sky with wisps of white floating off from a sole pillowlike cloud that looked as a ball of cotton.  The sun’s rays carried this comforting warmth that penetrated the skin and loosened one’s joints.  A gentle breeze tickled his face and the smell; the smell of ripened strawberries, sweet and tangy, permeated the air.  The boy stood at the headland looking east upon row upon row of strawberry plants.  Their dark green leaves, white flowers, light green buds, along with the luscious gleaming red of the ripened berries seemed to sparkle in contrast to the black plastic covering the rows from which the plants protruded.  The ground, dark, loamy, and fertile and the result of generation upon generation of careful usage, conservation, and preservation.

Was this Heaven or a reflection of fondness?  His own field of dreams.  Remarkable, breathtaking, and yet a prosaic felicity of senses and life.  For here past and present, heritage and innovation, come together like no place other.  Here his own sweat drips to the same ground that once drank the perspiration of his Dad and that of he and his siblings during years past. The Earth’s thirst is never quenched, but that itself is majestic. Those droplets of salty moisture tickling the callouses on his hands just as it had those of prior generations.  The hands, the mind, the soul, of the farmer’s being adorn such badges of honor in the present among pillars of history cherished and never taken for granted.

The work is not easy.  The physical labor tolls upon the body beneath the appearance of the inured hands and the uncertainty of mother nature always weighs upon the mind and spirit.  The lower back aches at times from the constant stimulation of the lumbar vertebrae.  The shoulders pinch at times, and the knees and hips stiffen.  Ah, that warmth from the sun’s rays.  Nature’s own infrared sauna soothes such complaints to nary a thought that discomfort will prevent what one must do before the sun reaches its apex in the sky.  The rising temperature will bring a natural break from working in the open where he will transition to beneath the shade afforded by a tree or a packing shed.  A simple structure, often open on three sides with a single unbroken wall beneath an H frame.

To the undiscerning eye, the images appear nondescript, but to his eyes it is a canvas upon which a field of dreams has unfolded in powerful yet subtle brushstrokes.  Each day the brush strokes become bolder, color more vibrant, and the air most succulent.  Nature can bestow ever so tender a touch between spans of efficacy unchecked.  That dichotomy, this is his world, his playground, his berry field, his time to preserve and pass to the coming generation just as the previous had to his and the prior to theirs.  A reflection, perhaps, yet a masterpiece of a boy turned man, a farmer, his heritage, tending the soil to coax the sweet fruits from within to emerge, to ripen in the rays of the Sun, and to be pinched at the stem, picked with care, and eaten from a field of dreams.

Lest We Forget, those who have passed are as near as our soul.

Hi everyone, after 10 years of marriage, my wife and I are in the final stages of adopting a son from an international orphanage.  We would most appreciate your thoughts and prayers for our son and us as soon-to-be parents to more than fur babies.  If anyone would like to make a monetary donation to help us with airfare primarily or other expenses associated with adoption, here is a PayPal donation account that I have set up.

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A Tale of Different Yet Same, Informed and Uninformed Judgement

It is extremely difficult, perhaps in effect impossible, to judge a book by its cover.  At some point in our life, we have most likely heard and said some version of “don’t judge a book by its cover.”  With me at least, it seems that I have been incorrect more often than correct when I attempted to make “definitive” assessments prematurely.  This example may sound stupid, but the “time I got it right” impression which stands out in my mind today involves oysters.  I have only shucked about 10 sacks in my lifetime and baring nothing unusual like an old classmate going into the business or meeting and befriending someone in the business, I will most likely never shuck another oyster.  Whether fried, in jambalaya, gumbo, stew, or the classic of fling a raw one in your mouth and it will just slide on down, I do not like the taste of oysters.  Of the typical Gulf, lake, swamp, or bayou eats found in Louisiana, oysters are the one that I really can’t stomach even in a singular quantity.  My Dad, however, has probably eaten more oyster poboys than all other possible types of poboys combined.  My Mom was a raw oyster connoisseur.  Therefore I shucked with enough experience to be confident and had ample opportunities to try and develop either a taste or tolerance.  I was the oddball, but I did test my judgment by going within the shell and fortunately that is all that Mom or Dad really wanted from me in that area.

Many things do not have a one size fits all right or wrong.  The best approach for me may or may not be the best approach for you or even the next person that either you or I encounter.  Still in so many ways we all desire certain degrees of simplicity.  Personally I believe that many of the greatest pleasures in life involve only the basics.  In the culinary mindset, few things taste better to me than personally picking and immediately eating a strawberry in Livingston or Tangipahoa Parish.  No offense intended to berries grown elsewhere, but to me the sweetness from aroma and taste are at a different level from other berries.  Even in that simplicity, I remain an oddball with most family and lifelong friends in that one thing better than that strawberry experience is a blackberry experience.  After my Grandfather had a hip surgery which made the extended bending required of strawberry farming uncomfortable, he began experimenting with blackberries.  Ultimately he developed some plants which produced blackberries about the size of a big toe that were firm and sweet.  He strung the vines through hog wire so the majority of produce could be picked by an adult standing upright.  Actually I think the blackberries developed my ability to twist and maneuver my finger, hands, and arms in these strange contortions which still allow me to do a lot of automotive repair without need to disassemble engine parts for access to the bolts.  Grandpa’s blackberries had thorns, and those thorns were sharp and could penetrate even calloused hands.  Still, no thorn defeated this kid’s small hands or my Grandfather’s hands toughened by a lifetime of work.

The reason for the reminiscing is that I hear too many students who seem to focus primarily on differences and not similarities.  The same is true in the political world.  I believe that it is true that no two people are exactly alike, but that does not make one superior to the other.  One may be more accomplished in one area, but the other is more skilled in something else.  Time and place may make one’s skills more desired than the other, but under different circumstances the other individual’s talent could be the one needed the most.

Think about many of the present day buzzwords.  We have all of these groupings based on any number of factors.  Age, heritage, gender, religion, and so on place us in some category.  From there we develop stereotypes of what each should be and whether explicitly or implicitly those images and associations influence each of us to some degree.

The thing is how many people that you personally know who differ from you in a grouping category actually fit neatly within the stereotypical box?  It’s too easy to cast judgments upon someone we do not know personally or something that we have never experienced, but what might happen if we took the time to understand or experience?

With advancements in technology and transportation, one would think it would be easier to encounter those who looked and thought differently from one’s own norm.  In some ways those advancements may be regressions in that we can more easily find those of similar thoughts and avoid those who are different.

For me personally, I was correct from the start about oysters.  Still, it was important that I put my initial impression to the test by actually experiencing the taste.  I do not remember, but it is likely that I got speared by a thorn very early in my blackberry picking experience.  If I had stopped because of the one bit of discomfort, I would never have enjoyed the pleasurable experience of picking and eating so many of the blackberries my Grandfather planted.

I think we should be proud of our differences and celebrate them.  Those differences, however, do not make us superior or inferior to another.  With politics and cultures, it is too easy find differences and to begin to think of things as us and them.  Can you imagine what might be if we took the time and effort though to communicate with one another by speaking with and not at, by looking with and not at, by hearing with and not at, and by experiencing together and not separately?

We might discover something really curious.  The covers of our respective books appear very different.  If we open the books, we will most likely see different words and read different stories.  As we continue, a feeling of déjà vu might develop.  This story is different from what I know, but the overall message or intent is the same as the story that I already know from my book.  Even when those messages and intents are actually different, can we not learn from those differences?  Learning is not always about figuring out what to do.  Often it is discovering what not to do.  If we only seek to see information and guidance from a single perspective, how little do we actually obtain?  Different may and can be better or worse.  That depends on the time and place.  It’s just as important though to remember that different may actually be same once you open the cover.

As a gentleman commented on one of my earlier pieces, “…it does not matter whose knee you are at while learning, a knee is a knee and knowledge is knowledge.”  My maternal Grandfather, my Dad, or any of their generation never stated those exact words to me.  Still, that message in its simplicity and eloquence is not new to me.  I’ve heard it, experienced it, and hopefully will be able to continue it and pass it along to others.