Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

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Strawberries and Cake

We had strawberries and cake at my inlaws yesterday, as knicolini recounts on her blog. We had the same for my birthday a few weeks back. It's a tradition. Skylar anticipates its savor.

Vallejo Strawberry Shortcake

Like all good traditions, it's tinged with sadness too. The other day, Kim told Skylar the story of our visits upstairs at 617 Napa Street to play with Russ and Joe, focusing on the time when Skylar first tried whipped cream and had a massive sugar rush. That last spring in California, we ate a lot of strawberries and cake.

Russ couldn't get enough of the fruit when it was in season. Even though strawberries were available most of the year in California, he waited every year like the native of Massachusetts he was for the time when they were most plentiful and at their peak. I once began a poem called "Spring in California", written for Thom Gunn's seminar, with the words, "Even the flowers here know no time/blinded by sameness." Gunn correctly pointed out that the title wasn't specific enough. "Where in California? They have spring in the foothills the same way they have it on the East Coast or in England." What I had in mind, of course, was spring in my California, a place where the absence of frost led to a peculiar blurring together of seasons, a stasis in flux, a world, where, as I pointed out to Laurie yesterday, you would see an eighty-something black couple driving around Oakland in their pristine, original-owner 1941 Chrysler on their way to shop at Safeway. Strawberries were almost always in the store. But Russ knew that their presence only counted when they deserved to be in stores and he ate them that spring like they might be the last strawberries he ever tasted. They were, in a sense: he didn't make it to the following spring. I'm not a big fan of the word "poignant," but it fits the flood of memories that drench me when I eat strawberries and cake. That's why our celebration for Kim's dad yesterday was especially rich. In the fall, when he was in the hospital with pneumonia and other post-surgery troubles, we were deeply concerned about his future. To be able to eat our traditional desert with him this spring is to celebrate a life we don't take for granted.


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