I was reading the New York Times on my iPad this morning enjoying the first day of the holiday. While engulfed in a presidential campaign debate and the upcoming shit show of our federal government.
While reading an ad popped up advertising that a local farm’s had strawberries. I frequent this farm in the fall for the best local grown apples but never really knew that they also sold strawberries. They have the best vegetables showcasing bushels and bushels of apples, squash and pumpkins in fall.
Bored with the newspapers, I jumped up grabbed my 35 MM camera and headed out the doors. Thinking how awesome the rich colors of spring would be on the farm and the hues of baskets of ruby-red strawberries. As I pulled up to the farm stand the doors were closed. Puzzled by the absence of activity, I looked in the distance for a photo opportunity and into view were dozens and dozens of cars. I could barely see as I focused, the puzzle seemed clear. There was no baskets of ruby-red strawberries, no veggies, no bushels, but acres of people bent over picking strawberries off the vine.
At first I was thinking there was no way there was time for this today imagining it would take hours. Then as i saw dozens of people leaving with baskets of perfectly shaped strawberries, I thought, “What the Hell!”
It was a beautiful morning complete with cool breeze and the hot July sun. I could smell the crisp summer breeze while the sun beat on my shoulders. Surrounded by the sweet smell of fruit on the vines were comforting my feet. I plugged in my ear buds, hit play on my I Phone and pressed into the perfect morning activity. Suddenly the race of life was extracted from my soul by the farm. Shit if I am health care administrator 14 hours a day 7 days a week, I got this!
After the first 15 minutes my back ached as I bent over as sweat built on my brow and back, drenching my shirt. With one hand on the ground I was searching for berries under the vines. They were all tiny almost not large enough, I thought. I vaguely remember that an elderly asian women started picking at the same time I did in the next row. Frustrated by how little I had picked I looked up to see what was going on around me.
As I turned back and looked down, the elderly asian women in the next row was picking like a piece of farming machinery. Her basket was full as she pushed two more behind. My basket maybe had a quart.
My competitiveness took control of me and I start picking faster trying to keep up with my asian neighbor. She was fully dressed in gray cotton capris pants complete with a long sleeve jacket and a brimmed hat. No skin in sight.
I am thinking by this point that this little old machine is kicking my butt!
I stopped to watch her every move.
First, she knew how to dress so she stayed cool, completely covered in sun reflecting grey and a matching with a hat. Second, she sported a nice work boot that was high enough to cover her ankle.
Mr Urban (me) was wearing shorts, tank top, no hat, no sunglasses and flip flops.
Mama Liang Sun taught me to pick two-handed. One hand covered with a latex purple glove to carefully pick up the vine and the other was strategically picking the best berries of the vine. Another strategy I learned is bending over from a standing position slows you down. Instead crouch, stay close to the ground using your whole body. Now many of you have not met me in person, those who have know that this is not a crouching low to the ground body. Nothing small or asian about this italian body and I am now clear there is a big difference between rice and pasta.
Pushing to the finish line I am an entire strawberry basket behind my new friend. As our glances met, I was out of breath sweating. Her charmed toothless smile clearly indicated she knew I was racing with her copying every move she made.
She started to belly laugh as she looked over at me pointing at my legs as she snorted. Covered with smashed berries matted down by hay communicated that I had no idea what I was doing.
We laughed out loud together as I proclaimed, “YOU WIN!”
I sat under a tree on the farm to write this story. While reflecting, I was reminded how much we learn from those who journeyed before us.
I always will remember The Kindness of Strangers.