When I was little, my family would leave the city on summer Friday evenings just before sunset, after my dad and grandfather returned home from work and it was no longer so hot outside. The drive upstate on the Taconic was boring so I often fell asleep.
Saturday mornings were busy and everyone had a task; the first stop for my grandparents and me was Grand Union in Hoosick Falls for the meat – chicken or steak – that my dad and grandfather would grill in the huge brick barbecue they had built years before. Next we drove to Faile’s Dairy in Cambridge for fresh eggs and heavy cream. My mom would grab my sister and head to Moses Farm Stand in Eagle Bridge for sweet peaches, firm-fleshed Jersey tomatoes, corn on the cob, and strawberries all picked earlier that morning.
I remember the strawberries best of all – plump, luscious, bright-red, and freckled. Soon they’d be swimming in a cold-water bath in my grandmother’s deep kitchen sink, then placed on a paper towel to wait while she mixed and baked an all-butter pound cake. Smelling the fruity berry scent and the rich aroma of the cake bought everyone into the kitchen. No one had the patience to wait until the golden cake was cooled and sliced into three equal layers or to watch my grandmother hand-whip the cream and spread it thickly, then dot it with the shiny red berries. She swatted away lots of probing fingers with her metal spatula while she assembled. Even though there were other things, delicious things, to eat before the cake, the highlight was my grandmother’s strawberry shortcake.
My grandparents are dead and their house long-sold. Faile’s Dairy is out of business. My sister and I are past middle-aged. But sweet, red, summer strawberries live on in my imagination and my garden.