To pick. Or not to pick.


‘A story about a lady out standing in her (strawberry) field. Oh, and a dog named Snoball.’

It’s getting to be That Season. When signs like these are sprouting along the highways and byways: ‘Pick Ur Own Strawberries’. ‘Pick Ur Own Raspberries’. Even ‘Pick Ur Own Rhubarb’. Later on this summer you’ll be seeing ‘Pick Ur Own Corn’. (Which I do love in its already-picked state; see my ‘To Hell with Kale’ for the Best Corn-Cooking Method on The Planet Earth). And come Fall, there will be, you can count on it, ‘Pick Ur Own Pumpkin’ signs.

Nah. I'd actually rather U did the picking. And I did the eating

To be perfectly honest, I’d much rather U did the picking. And just handed me a nice box of berries

In case you miss the ubiquitous highway signs (sometimes, for grammatical variety, spelled ‘U-Pick’, as above) there are data bases for locating Pick-Ur-Own places in your area. I ‘picked’ (hah) this highlighted one, because it’s Southern Illinois berry-picking we’re going to be talking about.

By the way, I’ve also seen ‘Cut Ur Own Christmas Tree’ (see example below). One can only wonder when we’ll see invitations to ‘Chop Ur Own Wood’? ‘Slaughter Ur Own Beef’? ‘Split Ur Own Atom’?

At least they know how to spell 'your'

At least they know how to spell ‘your’

But back to the strawberry story.

Back in the day, my mother thought it was great fun to pick ur own. (She probably still does.) She was, I might add, the only one in our family who thought it was fun. The rest of us hated it.

To her, it was a nice day out, selecting your own glorious fruit, which she would then make into glorious jams and shortcakes and pies. To us, it was a long ride in a hot car with your shorts-clad legs sticking to the vinyl seat and your sweaty little brother crawling all over you. (No seatbelts in those days, kids; no air-conditioning, either.) And then it was hours in the steamy Southern-Illinois heat making like an antebellum field hand. Followed by an even-hotter strawberry-infused ride home with your now-exhausted (read ‘whiny’) little brother getting his sticky red paw prints all over you.

This kid looks about as excited as my little brother to be picking some berries

This kid looks about as excited as my little brother to be picking some berries. At least he (or she?) has a ‘kids’ field’, whatever that means

The promise of all the strawberries we could eat when we got home didn’t help much. (Though I have to admit Mom’s strawberry pie was darned good.)

But, since Mom was the Grownup, and in charge, guess what? Strawberry-picking we would go. On the occasion of this story, my Littlest Brother Doug and Only Sister Laura were the designated pickers. The rest of us, being older, had graduated to other summer jobs. My brothers were probably toiling away on Dad’s survey crew (he was a civil engineer). And I may have been doing a stint at the Carlyle Union Banner (stories to come).

Anyway. Laura and Doug had been dutifully filling their berry baskets all morning — did I mention that it was hot? And that there was often poison ivy? And bugs? And sometimes even snakes? — when Doug spotted something special hidden there among the strawberry plants: a nest of baby mice. (I found a photo of a nest of baby mice, but, to be perfectly honest, they sound a whole lot cuter than they actually look, so never mind.)

Doug jumps up, all excited, and calls ‘Mommy, Mommy! Baby mice!

Now, our mother had been taking a berry-picking break and was chatting with the U-Pick Proprietoress (who rather eerily resembled  that Walker Evans photo of the Depression-era farm wife).

Upon hearing Doug’s excited cries, the Strawberry Lady yelled ‘Snowball!’ (Which was, I’m thinking, probably spelled ‘Snoball’, and was yelled more like this: ‘Snooooooobaaaaaallllllll!!’)

And this great big white dog came out of nowhere, bounded over to where Doug was standing, and proceeded to eat the baby mice. All of them. Right in front of Doug’s astonished, horror-stricken, kindergarten-aged eyes. It’s a wonder he didn’t grow up to be an ax murderer. Or a strawberry-hater, at the very least.

My animal-loving Littlest Brother Doug, pictured here with Major, the World's Smartest Cat (who probably would have done a number on those mice, too, given the chance)

My animal-loving Littlest Brother Doug, pictured here with Major, the World’s Smartest Cat (who probably would have done a number on those mice, too, given the chance)

Happy Strawberry (and baby mice) Season, everyone! Now get out there and pick me some fruit.

The way I like my berries -- already picked

Strawberries, just the way I like them — already picked, and by somebody else

New York City. June 2016


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36 thoughts on “To pick. Or not to pick.

  1. OMG…my dad made us do this too! There was nothing nice about going into a field and picking strawberries. That is what grocery stores are for. I always found it ridiculous. It’s like making your own clothes when you can buy jeans at Old Navy for $20. I don’t think so….

        • Yes, clothes have become so ‘affordable’! When I was young, a nice new granny dress (yes, that was a Thing) would set you back two or three nights of babysitting bucks. Last thing I sewed was a set of curtains for The Child’s room. Curtains were still pretty pricey twenty-odd years ago!

  2. Oh my gosh! I would have started sobbing, probably. (Both if I’d been a child and as a grown-up.) Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of mice, baby or otherwise, but the idea of these helpless little mice being gobbled up made my jaw drop open! Poor little guys.

    • Oh, I couldn’t agree more. The Dude discovered a nest of mice, including babies, just last weekend. They were in our woodpile. And, even tho they’ve been invading our house, I’m happy to report that neither he nor any pets of ours gobbled them up (!)

  3. josypheen

    Woooah! That must have been slightly traumatizing! Poor little Doug!

    I used to love strawberry picking. But it never gets thaat hot in the UK, and we never saw snakes!

    • Yes indeed. Poor little Doug. He grew up to be an axe murderer (kidding!) He actually grew up to be a very fine man — a man who never took his own children berry picking, or not that I know of, anyway. When interviewed for this piece, he did indeed remember the Snoball Incident — just like I remember that snake!

  4. mamasick

    I’m with you, let someone else pick the berries. You mean I’m picking berries and I STILL have to pay YOU? What’s wrong with this picture?

    • So true, mamasick, so true! As you can see, I feel exactly the same way. But I totally forgot to put in the bit about how you still have to PAY for the berries — even if you do all the work! Thank you for pointing that out — and for, um, reading my post in the first place!

  5. Someone at a nearby pick your own told me that she thought they should weigh kids before and after picking, and charge their parents for the difference. Because their strawberries don’t go into the basket.

  6. Omg!! If that was me I would have been traumatised! If I was the mum, I would have done what your brother thinks she did and been very cross with the woman! I get that it was her business but come on!
    Brilliant story, well told.

    • I completely agree with your OMG!, Hannah. It’s good luck that my lovely brother turned out as lovely as he did (!) Thank you so much for your comment, and for your kind compliment. I do love to tell a story!

  7. Doug Henry

    Hi There!

    As the child in question, this adventure was truly stenciled into my brain (this kind of experience has a way of doing that). I think I was maybe 5. Frieda (the patch owner) truly did not like kids of any age, and she definitely didn’t like disorder. You had to start by the little flag in your assigned row of berries, and you were promptly scolded by her if you went to a different row with more berries, or (god forbid) ate a berry!
    I got bored and flipped over an old wooden plank at the edge of the field. The mother mouse scurried away, and there were about 8 or 10 hairless baby mice in the nest made of grass, they looked like little animated pencil erasers. Mom explained how that was how they were born, and when Frieda called Snowball over, I genuinely thought that she wanted the dog to also see this this great new wonder of nature!
    Laura and I retreated to the car in horror, I remember watching mom have a discussion with Frieda (it’s hard to get a Lutheran really worked up) regarding the appropriateness of this onsite demonstration of the efficient rodent control capabilities of her dog!

    P.S. It didn’t screw me up too much, well, maybe a little!

    • Good Golly, Mr. Doug! Thanks so much for the deets on this story! Poor poor you. Poor poor Mom! I’m kicking myself that I wasn’t along for that particular picking trip — I would have SO loved to see our Lutheran Mom get worked up! (altho I certainly don’t mind the fact that I missed Snoball’s rodent-control mission) xoxoxoxoxo

  8. Your little brother learned a hard life lesson that day, didn’t he, Alice? That not all grownups are benign and some dogs non-discerning in the food department. Yuk, that gave my belly a heave. In my family, the kids did things the parents wouldn’t do, like pick berries. I guess my mother had had enough picking in her younger days – tobacco, the whole day in the field, for weeks.

    • Oh, Judy! I’m so sorry; I didn’t mean to upset you — or your stomach. I guess that’s what happens when one (me) uses a story that’s been told so many times in one’s own family that it has rather lost its sting. I promise to be more careful! xoxo

      • Alice, you did not upset me – please don’t think that. I think when we read about someone else’s experience, we remember our experience and try to relate. I do remember picking strawberries for 10 cents a pint and did it for one day only. There is laughter in almost any situation.

        • Whew! You are one of my very favorite (and faithful) readers, Judy. I was afraid I may have crossed a line there (!) But you are so right; there is usually humor in most every situation — especially those situations involving small children and strawberries xo

  9. teresa

    OMG, CHIGGERS — haven’t thought about those since Lake Ripley and Wisconsin days-gone-by. Thanks for the memories, Alice (and Ruth!). Our family also went strawberry picking and we absolutely loved it. I thank GOD my mom was different from other moms. She thought you should eat strawberries during the season non-stop, till you had a belly-ache and couldn’t eat another one…she didn’t believe in freezing them or jamming them or doing ANYTHING except gobbling them down the hatch by the bucketful. I have embraced that same sensibility, to eat things in season. I guess today that’s called Farm To Table or some such marketing-babble invented by a nit-wit creative/planner duo like Alice & Teresa.

    • ‘Farm to Table’!!!! Hah! SO true. Those strawberries (yours and mine) would no doubt be called ‘locally-sourced’ or some such nonsense. And, on a menu, you’d see that they came from Mrs. Walker Evans’ Farm. Nice to hear from you, Miss T! xoxo

  10. ellen

    This reminds me of the time that I blithely asked my (late) great friend Betty to go berry-picking with me. She was truly HORRIFIED at the very (berry) mention & thus, I learned of her childhood travails berry-picking when on sporadic jaunts to the countryside. A city gal, but the things you don’t know about your BFFs!!

    • Hah! Sounds like your friend Betty had a mom like mine. (for which she should have been eternally grateful — except for the berry-picking parts!) Thank you for reading and commenting, Great (not-late) Friend Ellen! xoxox

  11. Ruth Meisenheimer

    Your Mother took me strawberry picking the first month we lived in Carlyle and I got way more ‘chigger’ bites than strawberries! Her instructions to find the field were ‘turn at the corner where the cows stand!’ Then there was Frieda’s patch where nary a weed, bug, snake, mouse or child was welcome!! And, you must be sure to pick only the ripe berries! I never had the fun or satisfaction of picking your Mother did. Good memories though!

    • Ah! I remember you telling me once that you, too, were not a fan of berry-picking. Though always a great fan of my mom’s (!) Thanks for sharing your memories of picking — and chiggers. Darn, I forgot about the chiggers! (How did THAT happen?) xoxoxo

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