Columnist’s Note: Most of my summer memories are about dealing with the heat, but this one is about the sweet memory of picking strawberries, and bothering girls.
The summer I was fourteen I worked for a Pettis County farmer, named Bill Phillips. Mr. Phillips, lived just north of Sedalia, and grew strawberries as a cash crop. It was the summer of 1952, and the 15 or so other people, and myself, Bill hired as pickers were not about to get rich at the five cents a box. We were working, however, and that was a lot back then. Most of the pickers were kids like me, and my sister, the exception was two old maid sisters in their late sixties. I will never forget those ladies, because although they seemed to be moving very slow compared to us younger ones, at the end of the day they had always picked twice what us kids had picked. In hindsight I know that was because, they were working while us kids were playing. It was my first lesson in work ethics.
Bill Phillips was a slim raw boned man who always wore loose bib overalls, and kept an extremely wet, well-chewed cigar butt in his mouth. (I never saw it lit) I remember he was also patient man, which he had to be given the crew he used were mostly kids like me, who were there more for the diversion than the work. The diversion usually came in the form of girls which, at 14, were more interesting than strawberries. Of course the girls were more interested in the strawberries , and Bill would end up putting us boys on the opposite side of the field to keep us from bothering them, something that seldom worked.
The Phillip’s farm was a beautiful rustic place to work, and it was almost like taking a hay ride every morning getting there. Bill would come through the neighborhood with his old flatbed truck to pick up his crew of kids, and take us to the fields. To city kids like my sister, and I the ride in the back of that old truck was the high point of the day. As we left the tarred streets of Sedalia for the dirt roads of the country, it was like entering another world, and I can still remember getting an almost giddy feeling like a caged bird must experience when it is set free, as I entered the wide open spaces of the country. If I close my eyes I can still see Bill’s old farm, with its’ rutted mud road, and ancient see through barns. I can also see the beautiful long green rows of the strawberry patch, with their tasty red fruit peeking out of beds of straw, just waiting for us to pluck them.
I believe the feeling I got on that farm is what made me grow up to love the country. It is probably what influenced me to move there, when I grew up. Working in that strawberry patch, was a wonderful time in my life, and I think about it whenever I eat strawberries. The memory even inspired me to write this poem. It’s called simply. Strawberry Season.
Memories that come to me, when strawberries are in season, are sunny days, the smells of hay and ice cream freezers freezen.
A picker’s race through fragrant fields.
First basketful’s the winner.
That girl I kissed among the blooms,
and shortcakes for my dinner.
Jack Miller is a longtime Sedalia resident whose column runs in the Weekend edition of the Democrat.