I pick up the paring knife, its shape fits my hand. Blue cardboard quarts sit on the counter to my right and the colander is in the empty sink waiting to be filled. I pick up the first berry. With a quick twist of the blade, it's little green top is detached and dropped. It sits on the bottom of the big white sink looking brighter somehow. The plump, red strawberry is placed in the strainer, waiting to be joined by all the others. I reach for the next berry without thinking. Quick twist, dropped top, berry plopped. I find my rhythm immediately. It's a familiar task - one I don't think much about until now.
I make fast work of the first quart and half of the second one. After a quick rinse, I lay the berries on some paper towels to dry. I sample one. It's perfect - sweet, juicy, not too ripe. Although dinner is in a short while, I help myself to a few more. With each bite, I taste summer. I'm immediately in central Wisconsin, some June day around the age of seven or eight. I walk outside my grandparents' house and pick strawberries for breakfast, eating one for every couple berries that make their way in to the wooden box. The sun is shining on my shoulders, warm but not yet too hot. There is dirt under my toes, turning my white sandals brown. I bend over again and examine the plants. I lift the leaves, find the gems and pick them. Two in the box, one in the mouth.
"Mom!" Her voice brings me back to the task at hand. "Would you like a strawberry?" I ask. She grabs one readily. I take another one for myself. I look down at her face and she's smiling. "These are soooo good," she says. "They are, aren't they?" I reply. She nods and grabs two more before she skips out the kitchen door, yelling for her sister to wait up. I plop another berry in my mouth - it's just as sweet as the first one. I could keep eating, but I make myself stop so I can fix dinner. The truth is I could skip the meal all together. The days are growing longer and I am anxious for the stretch of carefree days ahead of us. Only four days of school remain and the calendar says May, but it might as well be June. For me, summer always starts with the strawberries.