In the fields to the East of the house, my parents were out laying down pipe for the sprinklers. The year prior my dad and husband had plowed and planted oats. Over the winter, the leukemia my father was living with became more acute and his doctors decided he would receive a stem cell transplant from my aunt as a "last resort". Hard to believe it was a last resort because he seemed so healthy when he had cancer. It was the transplant that seemed to change things. Anyway, plans had changed and the transplant was rescheduled for fall so they were carrying on the project of the new hayfield. I watched and wished that I could be in two places but they didn't want me to help. They wanted me to work on my own project -- the cherries.
The cherry trees were planted when my sister and I were little. The tree to the West was mine and the tree to the East was my sister's. Each summer at the end of June, when the hay fever was at it's height, we would begin picking. It was a ritual. A summer wasn't complete without a harvest from the trees. A couple of times the blossoms froze in the spring and there wasn't any fruit leaving a hole. As if we were lost without the work. Life wasn't quite the same without it. My mom, dad, sister and I would all pick. The dogs and the cats would laze around in the shade wondering what all the fuss was about.
The canopy of the cherry trees held and collected the stories of my life. Each one adding to a previous one and all tucked away and safe under the branches. It was under their protection that my sister and I would play while my mom worked in the garden. My husband and I were married with the trees weighted down with ripe red cherries as a backdrop. Each drooping bunch held our memories.
This summer day I was alone under the trees save my childhood cat Maybell who was always nearby. I had put The Poisonwood Bible on my v1.0 iPod the previous night. The audio books made my summers of market gardening go by quickly. I had tried Barbara Kingsolver's book several years earlier but quit after one or two pages. This time, I would persist because I was captive under the cherry tree.
I picked the cherries into a recycled yogurt container and from there into a larger bucket. My container had a makeshift handle so I could easily hold it and a branch in my left hand and pick with my right. As I picked I was careful to leave the stems intact to keep the cherries from turning brown. Carton after carton was eased along by Kingsolver's story. The boxed cake mixes going into the suitcase, the malaria pills, the misunderstandings of the language all took over as she wove her story. I lost track of the cartons and the buckets. My hands browned more and more until they were dyed by the juice. The summer ritual under the cherry tree had a new accompaniment to add to the mosaic of memories from under the trees.
A sound jarred me from the book and I saw the tractor and trailer coming in from the field as my parents had finished laying pipe and the day was heating up. I quieted Kingsolver's story and began to haul my buckets into the house. My mom and I would spend the rest of the day pitting, canning and freezing together just as were were supposed to do each June.