An elementary school friend called me out of the blue. She said "I am in town and just drove past your house. I couldn't get you off my mind and the only way to do it was to call you." She said she was visiting her mom's grave at Willowbrook. I knew she visited Westport often to check on her stepdad who still lived in the house that was her mother's. We decided to meet at the cemetery which was about a quarter mile from my house.
When you've lived in the same town your entire life as I have, cemeteries become like little neighborhoods. Stories of people popped into my head as I saw their names written in stone. With an old friend like Chou Chou, the stories were shared and understood without spoken words. It seemed that near our parents' graves, there was a cluster of friends and their parents.
We walked to her mom's gravesite, and smiled about how long we've known each other. My parents knew her parents before our kindergarten meeting in Miss Ginty's class in 1957. Our mothers were both immigrants and my mom immediately had an affinity for Chou Chou's mom. I took a picture of Chou with her camera next to the Japanese Maple she bought for her mother's grave. She explained that her mom had always wanted one of the trees on her property so she bought one her mom on the little piece of property.
We ended the visit near my mom's grave. Chou commented on how happy my mother must be about all the wild raspberries that surrounded the plot she shared with my father. The only way I recognize wild berries or any other berries is seeing the fruit on it. I never paid attention to leaves probably because I grew up the daughter of a nurseryman. Chou had to fit in a quick visit with her stepdad and the three hour drive to back to Boston and it was already very late in the afternoon. We said our quick goodbyes.
About 20 minutes later, I got a call from my brother Tuchy saying, "I am looking at Chou Chou" They hadn't known each other so the call seemed out of place. She was eating dinner at Mario's with her stepdad and mentioned my name loud enough for my brother and his friends, who were eating at the next table, to hear.
We all interpreted the event as a big hello from our parents. Chou had confided in me that her mother "made herself known" to her in a scary way years before and she had wanted it to stop. This was a very sweet way to make contact. It was just the latest of many sweet messages from my mom.
Later that night, my son Michael, who has autism, woke up and diplaced me from my bed next to my peacefully sleeping husband. I tried to go back to bed after that. but couldn't. One way I try to put myself to sleep is trying to picture the movie "It's A Wonderful Life" in my head. I know almost every word of the dialogue in the movie. It was about 3:30. As I was thinking the scene where George walks into Gower's drug store right after he got his suitcase for his trip, I heard the word, 'RASPBERRIES" in my head.
I got up, got the computer and looked up raspberries. They're amazingly healthy for you. Raspberries help prevent cancer and the spread of cancer. They also help relieve the symtoms of allergies. The list of benefits was impressive. So in the middle of the night I wrote an email to my siblings with the sweet message from our parents. As I was writing the message, I explained that I always had a "thing" about raspberries. I found and picked berries throughout my childhood and whenever I could as an adult.
One major negative theme of my childhood was the impression I had that my father didn't like me all that much. I felt he loved me but he didn't like me. One strong piece of evidence, aside from his dirty looks, was that whenever I would find a patch of wild berries, he would pull them out not long afterward. He had some property a couple of miles from where we lived that he farmed with trees that he sold at the nursery where we lived. I hit the jackpot there one day with an incredible crop of ripe black raspberries. It occurs to me as I am writing this, that the farmers who professionally farmed the land prior to my dad, probably planted the variety of plant intentionally. They were too big to be wid, about the size of my thumb. I picked so many once, I was able to make about 10 jars of preserves. It was the only time I ever made preserves. I loved the process and wanted to make more, perhaps to share with family and friends for the holidays ahead. But when I went back they were gone.
My father had also cut down a cherry tree many years earlier which was one of the joys of my childhood. I had climbed that tree year after year as a little girl and ate the fruit when the yellow berries showed their first blush of pink. I can remember the tiny pink dots that signaled to me that the cherries were sweet enough to eat. I had remembered my father's pleas for me to wait until the cherries were ripe. He explained that the cherries needed to be red. But my cerries were delicioiusly sweet the way they were and it was always a race as to who would get more berries, me or the birds. We never spoke about why he cut down my precious cherry tree even though I did harbor a lot of animosity about it. I just didn't engage my father in discussions which always ended badly.
It wasn't until after my father's death that I saw the yellow variety of cherries come to market for the first time. It was well after I had become allergic to cherries. It was probably an intolerance rather than an allergy but even one cherry gave me stomach cramps. I didn't want to believe my favorite fruit had betrayed me so for about 10 years I tested my stomach each cherry season only to have to stay in bed until the next day. Seeing the yellow variety of cherries made me sad to think that my father thought I wasn't waiting until the cherries were ripe and possibly thought I had ruined his tree that he planted several years earlier.
As I was writing the email in the middle of the night to my siblings and a few friends about the raspberries and the visit to the cemetery with Chou, I had a new, clear revelation about my dad and his reasons for cutting down the berry plants. He had very valuable nursery stock that was being eaten by animals that were attracted by the sweet fruit. The animals made their homes on the land and were trampling and kililing the trees. He also planted produce on the land that fed the family. He wasn't the kind of dad that ever explained anything to me and I had always just focused on the hurt.
I wanted to share the new revelations with everyone so I was getting ready to hit send on the email when I heard the familiar click that signaled a new arrived of email. It was an artist newsletter that I was subcribed to on the recommendation my old friend and high school art teacher, Neil. We had talked a couple of weeks earlier about his not being able to do silkscreen because he was so allergic to the chemicals. I had never seen the art newsletter address health issues but the very first article was about artists having five times the allergies as the general population. So I sent an email to Neil. I told him to call me in the morning about the raspberries. When he called, he was sick. I told him the raspberry story. He said he just had them the night before and that a friend of his was going to pick more berries. We decided our moms were sending a message of love and healing.
A couple of days later, my son with autism went to the hospital for a sleep study. He has apnea. He called John, the attendant, "sweetheart"...which he never does. So the next morning as we were leaving, I told him the raspberry story. He told me his wife planted raspberry plants on his property the day before. He also told me he lives across the street from an old raspberry farm that was sold to builders but you could still go there and get buckets full during raspberry season. He told me to come pick some because there were too many for he and his neighbors to pick.
My mom's very sweet message was heeded. We're all eating more raspberries. And my father told me where to find all the wild raspberries I wanted.