Whenever I pick strawberries - which I love because they are sweet, juicy and a key ingredient in strawberry daiquiris - I become a basket case.
Even with a basket, which I need to hold the rich red fruit that inspired the psychedelic rock group Strawberry Alarm Clock (now I can’t get “Incense and Peppermints” out of my head), I end up picking the sour cream of the crop.
That’s why I relied on the kindness of strangers when my wife, Sue, and I went strawberry picking at a sprawling farm that dwarfed the little strawberry patch Sue has at home.
The last time we went strawberry picking was two years ago, with our granddaughters Chloe and Lilly, who proved to be so proficient at picking a peck of perfect produce they put pathetic Poppie to shame.
This time, Sue and I went by ourselves. Without the expert guidance of giddy grandchildren, I needed help.
I got my first piece of advice from Jerry, the guy at the farm stand.
“Get a basket,” he told me. “You don’t want to carry all those strawberries in your hands.”
“Will I get juiced?” I asked.
“You’ll be a mess,” replied Jerry, adding that I was the only other Jerry he had ever met.
“Jerry rhymes with berry,” I pointed out. “Do you like strawberries?”
“Not really,” said Jerry, who has been working at the farm for 20 years. “I’ll have one here and there.”
“There are lots of strawberries here,” I said. “But if you have one there, bring a basket.”
That’s what Sue and I did when we went out into the field.
Sue took her basket and went on her berry way, leaving me to fend for myself. Fortunately, I met the Strawberry Whisperer, whose real name is Emily.
“You have your own basket,” I said, noticing that she didn’t get it from the farm stand.
“I’ve had this one for years,” Emily said of her large white container, which had a handle and was stuffed with succulent strawberries. “It’s personalized.”
“In that case,” I said, “you’re just the person to give me some picking tips.”
“You have to look underneath for ones that are hiding,” said Emily, who pulled out a berry approximately the size - if not the color and shape - of a baseball.
“Mine are more like marbles,” I said. “It’s fitting because I lost my marbles.”
Emily smiled, seemingly in agreement, and said, “I have to go now. Good luck.”
I tramped through a row of berries, squishing some under my size-11 sneakers, and met Mei, a young woman who was picking strawberries for the first time.
“You can use the ones you stepped on for strawberry jam,” Mei suggested.
“I’m always in a jam,” I said.
“You have to make the best of it,” said Mei. “Just keep your fingers crossed.”
“If I do that,” I said, “it will be tough to pick strawberries.”
Just then, and probably to Mei’s relief, Sue caught up with me. She was carrying a basket that was bursting with berries.
“You’re not doing such a good job,” Sue said as she looked at my slim pickings.
She took me to an area where the berries were better and put some in my basket.
“You have to know where to look,” Sue said. “You’re too busy talking with people.”
“One of them,” I told her, “was the Strawberry Whisperer.”
“Does she whisper to strawberries?” Sue wondered.
“Yes,” I said. “And the strawberries whisper back.”
“You’ve been out in the sun too long,” Sue said.
We headed back to the stand with our overflowing baskets and saw Jerry again.
“How did we do?” I asked him.
“Pretty good,” Jerry replied, adding that we owed $14.
I handed him the cash and said, “When I get home, I’m going to whisper to my strawberries.”
“Have a nice chat,” Jerry said. “And enjoy your strawberry daiquiri.”
Jerry Zezima writes a humor column for Tribune News Service and is the author of six books. His latest is “One for the Ageless: How to Stay Young and Immature Even If You’re Really Old.” Reach him at [email protected] or via jerryzezima.blogspot.com.