Hello, Gorgeous.

So you’re back, are you?  Yes, here you are, in all your tempting ruby glory.  I can’t get enough of you, and I don’t care who knows it.

There are those who may say (sing it, Andy Williams) that the year-end holidays are the most wonderful time of the year.

Perhaps that’s true, but right here, right now, record one vote in that category for Strawberry Season.

These red crown jewels of cuisine, the tiny ripe ones sweet enough to make you weep on first bite if you weren’t too busy reaching for another—they come from right up the road this time of year, if you are lucky enough to live in the right places.  In our neck of the woods, the Strawberry Epicenter is Portland, Tennessee, and on farms stretching out and around the rolling hills of north-central Volunteer State.

Why Portland?  The definitive local source is silent on and agricultural/scientific bases for the local strawberry boon.  According to the website for Portland’s annual strawberry extravaganza, “in the early 1900’s Portland’s big industry was ‘strawberries’.  In addition to the large number of farms and agricultural businesses growing the country’s finest berries, there was a creating factory, a fruit processing plant, a canning factory, and a freezing facility producing strawberries for Breyers Ice Cream and other national brands.

It continues: “During the peak of the strawberry business Portland would ship out 30 railroad cars a day.  Portland started hosting the Middle Tennessee Strawberry Festival in 1941…Each year in mid-May the festival brings 40,000-plus people together to celebrate the importance of the strawberry industry to Portland’s heritage.”

Thirty freight cars a day?  That’s a train worth hopping, like the hoboes of old in search of better times and places.  That “country’s finest berries” part just might reflect regional bias; who knows?  Google reports, as Google tends to do, a maddening variety of conflicting answers on where to find the best strawberries in the U.S.  Here’s our answer to Google’s eternal indecision:  The best strawberries are the ones that are grown right up the road, wherever you may be.

Meanwhile, if you have even one eye open, you cannot miss the arrival of the Most Wonderful Time.  Like a royal coronation or the Super Bowl, it is heralded with street banners, celebrations, and featured recipes in every possible media outlet.

The most authentic fans wait patiently for the arrival of the local gems in glorious early summer, disdaining the hard and flavorless imposters that perch in other seasons in the produce section coolers at any grocery store.  Too large, off-color, or, worst of all, hollow inside (shuddering is the appropriate response here), these are easy to ignore, for they are the poorest imaginable substitutes for the true, local, delectable thing.

Strawberries are tasty testimony to the eternal truth that small is so often superior.  The very best of these scarlet prizes are small, blood-red, no orange tones.  They are firm, not too hard (underripe), and not too soft (overripe).  We the faithful (read: picky) scan container arrays at farmers markets and in neighborhood produce shops, scrupulous in selection.  We are indifferent to how long this examination requires, and we pity those who don’t understand it’s importance.

At this height of the Blessed Season, the chefs of YouTube, the Food Network, and beyond present us with countless recipes to feature our treasures during this brief annual spectacle.  There they perch atop a salad, snuggling amidst Southern pecans and local goat cheese.  And here they are swimming in a cocktail, the scarlet tones drawing the eye like hummingbirds to red geraniums.  My, they photograph well.  A favorite local restaurant, Nashville’s fabulous Midtown Cafe, added strawberry cake to the dessert menu, its lovely pink cream icing proudly holding up the fresh, naked trophies atop each slice.  It is enough to haunt your dreams.  I awake wondering how I can finagle a return visit before the season ends.  One must have one’s cake and…well, you know what I mean.

About those recipes.

Admire them as you may, but there is a great secret among the most indefatigable of the Strawberry Tribe.  We never make it through those recipes.  Because we are bound to the only recipe that matters:  Pop in mouth immediately.  Follow with another.  Continue with as many as possible, before the Blessed Season ends, all too soon.

Editor’s noteThis week G-ma welcomes a guest writer.  She’s our beloved sister, and we’ll call her G-aunt here. Enjoy G-aunt’s reflections on how deftly small children put us in our places and teach us what only they can.

He’s named for his dad, looks like his mom, and acts like — himself.  My grandson operates his own way and on his own schedule.  He wouldn’t crawl for a long time, then went along sideways on one hip.  He wouldn’t walk for a long time, then stood up, started running and hasn’t stopped.  He frisbeed his plate of holiday food across the room into the Christmas tree, announcing helpfully, “I frew my plate.” Yeah, thanks little dude, we noticed.  We didn’t expect that, but we noticed.

His sister, age four, recently pedaled her new bike into a parked car and apparently was stung when her dad chuckled despite her upset.  She told us he couldn’t understand her feelings “because he doesn’t live inside my body.  He isn’t me.”  Seriously?  We know adults age forty-four who can’t grasp that concept.

When the father of these two (our son) was their age, he told us through tears that he was scared about “the sun burning out.” Attempting comfort, we assured him the sun will be around many more thousands of years. No dice.  “But you know how grandma and grandpa had you, and you had me, and I’ll have kids and then they’ll have kids?  SOMEBODY in our family,” he wailed, “will be here when the sun burns out!”  Um, you might have a point there, kid.

Our daughter, their young aunt, was never one to shrink from reality, much less shrink from describing it. While visiting her kindergarten class many years ago, I gushed about how happy I was to be there, how proud I was to be her mother, how nice her classroom was.  Her response?  “Mom, your breath stinks.”  Nothing like a cold hard truth to get you over yourself.

I often have wondered:  who exactly ARE these small people?  And who sent them here to confound us, inspire us, touch us and yank our feet back to the ground?

I do not know, but I do know this:

It’s a sacred privilege for their little souls to have been given into our keeping, if only for a short while.

It’s an honor to witness and enjoy their astonishing individuality, and to love and guide them as best we can in the time we are given.

And it’s a humbling thing that the little ones we seek to teach, teach us so much:  To be ourselves.  To understand that others can’t always sympathize.  To think ahead. To keep it real.

Ah, the joy and the wonder of it— for us and all the world to be blessed with the wisdom of the children. May it ever be so.


I don’t think I could have done it. Not then, not so soon.

It would have been too painful to say the word “hope” just days after our community joined hundreds of others across America, paralyzed and grief-stricken.  As we have watched in so many other cities and towns nationwide, a deranged, gun-laden shooter blasted her way into Covenant School in Nashville on March 27 and showered assault-style bullets into three nine-year-olds and three adult staff members before the police killed her.

Everyone knew someone who was impacted.  It was inescapable.  Someone was a cousin of one of the victims, their next-door neighbor, a student of the murdered head of school, a spouse of one of the first responders, a news anchor who had to stand in front of the cameras reporting on victims close to the ages of her own children.  Tragedy converts a large city to a small community as quickly as an assault weapon ends lives. Many of us navigated those first days in a daze of horror.

And yet, sooner than it seemed possible, after just two or three settings of the sun, even in those bleary early days of shock, hope was sought, and was offered. In this particular case, it was a trade for hospitality and nourishment, with open acknowledgement of the natural trauma of any parent.

“It’s been a lot…. In honor of our daughter and all the kids growing up in this world today we’re offering the HOPE special for lunch. We cook, you say Hope then you eat, for free. Let’s strive to make the world the place our children deserve!”

That’s the Instagram post from a trendy Asian restaurant in East Nashville called Xiao Bao, just three days after the Covenant tragedy.  And those generous proprietors stood alongside many others with hearts aching for the opportunity to do something. Along with the pain and the fear and the anger and the utter disgust, you could almost touch another element tightening the circles within circles.  It wove its way into the bonds that form a community. Call it Hope, call it Love, call it Generosity…call it all those things, or anything you like.  Along with the grief that settled over the city like the unsettled clouds of a spring storm, those unexpected forces also rooted and grew.

Nashville’s beloved Frist Art Museum offered two days of open doors, free to all, “Whether you need to gather with loved ones or visit alone, we hope the museum can provide some respite.” Less than 10 hours after the shooting, our church opened its doors to the community for a candlelight vigil of grief and acknowledgement.  Local flower farm Apple & Dove, a small family enterprise, dropped a delivery of brilliant clumps of spring tulips in mason jars at a popular local produce market. Their bouquets normally get snatched up at prices that enable a small farm to survive, but these gorgeous emblems of spring’s arrival were free.  “Our community is hurting..” said the sign on the shelf, inviting anyone who would take comfort from the beautiful offering to help themselves.  

I took a bouquet and dashed out to my car, where I sobbed all the way home.

Why is it the signs of kindness that throw open the gates of emotion? The stories just kept coming.

“Magpies store was giving away pink headbands to girls going to Evelyn’s funeral (one of the nine-year-old victims). My niece who knew Evelyn’s mom was babysitting for kids of parents who knew the parents better than she did. Her husband was doing the same for a group of boys.”  This so the adults could attend the funeral.

As the services for the victims began, signs of compassion and remarkable mercy continued to emerge.  As reported in the New York Times, the husband of Covenant’s slain head of school reminded the community that all the families of the dead were suffering. “Dick Koonce delivered a eulogy on Wednesday for his wife, Katherine, who was killed in the shooting,” the Times reported. “ ‘Honoring Katherine compels us to remember a seventh family, equally wounded in the loss of someone dear to them,’ Mr. Koonce said, a reference to the family of the shooter. ‘We are trusting in the strong and loving embrace of a strong and loving God to take each of the seven that died and heal their wounds and their souls.’ ”

In neighborhoods across the city, the work continued:  “ We all put pink ribbons on our mailboxes in (another victim’s) honor. Also held a candlelight vigil for her and her family on her street this week. Meal train sign-ups and $ contributions. Some friends/neighbors offered home rentals at no cost to house out of town families and also bedrooms in their homes for families in town. Card/ letter writings. We all feel we can’t do enough…”

“When you don’t know what to do, you do what you know,” said another loving and pragmatic friend, who made large bows in the red and black colors of Covenant School and attached them to mailboxes all up and down her street.

Others took to the streets to vent their grief and demand change in the time-honored American methods of protest.  Group after group gathered at the Tennessee State Capitol, marching with signs held high, demanding legislators consider red-flag laws and restrictions on assault weapons.  Doctors, teachers, law enforcement…most of all, I saw hope in the crowds of the high-school students who walked out of class to march at the capitol.  Their young faces were ablaze with fear and anger—but I saw hope in their presence, in the evidence of their resolve.

We just passed the one-month anniversary of our shared tragedy.  I look around with changed eyes at the hundreds of communities who have suffered similar nightmares and wonder how one nation can digest so much violence and heartbreak without making the sorts of changes that so clearly have alleviated this devastation elsewhere.  In our great national shame and failure to protect our children, aren’t those of us who are silent also complicit?  I have said little, done nothing, never even reviewed my electoral selections based on this issue. Like so many millions of others, I thought this battle could not be won, that the forces of evil that block lifesaving changes were too powerful and too sickeningly wealthy to defeat.  And so I remained silent.

Perhaps that’s true—maybe it can’t be fixed after 20-plus years of murderous rampages in schools and elsewhere.  But perhaps it isn’t. I look around again, and I think about those high-school students, those bows on the mailboxes, those flowers, those police officers begging for change, those physicians marching in lab coats.  And I wonder if maybe enough hope, rising on the tide of tragedy, really could forge a different future.  Save lives.  Keep more families from the same agonizing losses.

The signs are out there, if we are willing to look, the signals that hope can rise alongside anger and grief and shame.  Is it time to look in the mirror and see if we find hope looking back at us?  Maybe, just maybe, the time is finally here when we, as parents and grandparents and friends and neighbors and citizens and voters, accept and act on our shared responsibility as an outgrowth of our unimaginable, colossal shared grief.

Maybe it’s time to have hope for lunch.