Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Memories of Summers From Long Ago

There are things that bring back memories suddenly – it could be the music that you hear on the radio, it could be the taste of food, or even a photograph. Most of the time, it is unexpected. It is hard to explain how these memories are triggered. I experienced a similar moment a couple of weeks ago while eating something that I haven't eaten in a long time.

I purchased a cup of fresh raspberries. I don't usually purchase fresh raspberries because I am not too fond of eating them fresh – the taste is a bit tart when eaten fresh. I love raspberry jams and jellies; I like them in desserts such as pastries and ice cream; and I love them when mixed in icy drinks or shakes. But because of my recent push in changing my diet to eat more fruits and vegetable, I purchased a cup to eat fresh.

The first couple of raspberries in my mouth made my face pucker; at the same time it also brought back years of fond memories back when I spent my summers as a youth in Bainbridge Island helping out in my sister's strawberry and raspberry farm. The last time I had eaten fresh raspberries was probably the last time that I had picked them in Bainbridge Island. While picking berries, every so often, a berry makes it to your mouth rather than the canister where the picked raspberries go.

I spent countless summers from 1975 until I moved to Southern California in 1988 in Bainbridge Island. It was a lot of hard work for everyone, but they were also happy times. Family members would schedule work vacation during these times to be able to help out. No, there were no summer trips to Disneyland or camping trips to Yellowstone; there were only the summer trips to Bainbridge Island. There were others outside the family that would help. I remember my first summer in the Island when a group of Native Indians from Canada helped out. There were also a few year when a Vietnamese family from the island helped out.

Raspberries were picked using cans, the same size can that the large drip coffee are sold in, that have ropes built into them to be able to wrap it around your waist. For the more advanced pickers, they also come in the double-can variety. After the can is filled, it is emptied into a wooden, "cannery" flats or if they were going to road vendors or markets, they are emptied into a smaller carton box.

I was a very slow picker, but not as slow as Glen. I could never surpass Leah's and Sonya's speed in picking raspberries. Sonya was unbelievably fast picker for a small young girl. I used to say that the reason why she picked so many so fast was because she "skipped" a lot. Skipping means leaving some ripe berries unpicked. Ideally, when picking berries, you want to get as much as the ripened berries in your row as possible. In reality, I was a slow picker and always intent in picking each and every ripe ones in my row. You could call me very inefficient when it comes to picking berries. Ideally, you want to pick as much as possible, even at the expense of skipping a few.

I claim to have worked hard on the farm, but a lot of times I stayed in the house to babysit the kids and “bossed” the kids to help me clean the house. I did not wake up in the wee hours in the morning, nor endured the scorching sun or get drenched by the rain picking berries. There were no days off during berry season. It took two to three days to go thru the whole raspberry orchard. Usually, raspberry bushes are ready to be picked again after two days. If you took a day off, ripe fruits would start to drop off from the bush due to over ripening. I would help, but it was usually after 8 AM when I got to the field, would take breaks as often as possible, and when it would get too hot or too wet, I would complain like heck until they sent me to the house to take care of the kids. The hard work was done by my sister, her husband – Mng. Tommy, and my mother. They were the ones out in the field from sunrise to sundown. They would pick berries until it was no longer possible to see the ripe fruits. Because it gets dark late during the summer, sometimes it lasted until 10 at night, if there were orders from the market.

There were always other people helping out, especially on the weekends. During the summers in Bainbridge, there were always younger nieces and nephews dropped off from Seattle by their parents for me to babysit for a couple of weeks. Or in some cases, they would stay the whole summer. Ron got to spend full summers in Bainbridge Island as a baby, prior to his Tatang and Lola arriving to Seattle, because there would be no one in Seattle to babysit him. On weekends, there were usually many family members or other relatives visiting from Seattle. The living room floor and the basement “big” room were the places where the visitors slept.

We had easy access to the Indian reservations at Suquamish for purchase of fireworks. We had plenty of vendors to choose from. We went there every time there was a younger relative visiting from Seattle. It seemed like fireworks were almost a lure for the kids to go to Bainbridge Island because they can get a good collection of fireworks. From the "Crazy George" stand to the "Cheapest Fireworks in the World" stand, fireworks could be had up the ying yang. We tried to find the stand that could give us literally the best bang out of our bucks. Because of the wide open yard and the farm field at my sister's place, you can fire up any type of fireworks without any concerns for neighbors and their houses. The highlight of the summer was always watching the 4th of July parade in downtown Winslow --- fighting for candies thrown by people riding parade floats, waiting for the Strawberry Queen’s (Auntie Aida) float since she had the most candies to give away, and partaking in the festivities afterwards, whether it was playing the carnival games or sampling the food for sale.

I look back at all those times with fond memories. The times we would go to Battle Point Park to play tennis or basketball; the late afternoons collecting all the aluminum cans and beer bottles after a Little League baseball game or a community league softball games – back then we were able to collect enough recyclable materials every couple of weeks and cash them in for pizza treats at Pietro's or Campana's in Silverdale for 6 to 8 people. Or making kool-aid or Tang ice pops. I guess popsicles were a bit more expensive then. It is not like nowadays where you can buy a bag of popsicles at the grocery store at the beckon of a little kid. The hot days spent on the slip and slide, and afterwards getting scolded for wasting water and using up all the clean towels. Playing basketball and h-o-r-s-e on a dirt surface using a rickety rim on a plywood backboard and torn up net. I played my best basketball on that court because I knew where the potholes were and the backboard's sweet spots for bank shots. The time spent keeping an eye on the cherry tree to see where the ripe fruits were going to be. There was only one cherry tree that produced sweet fruits – you laid claim to any ripe fruits that you find and it was yours to somehow find a way to pick them or risk losing them to others that may find them later on. Feeling the warm summer breeze on your face in the late afternoon riding in the back of the old yellow pick-up truck, along with many flats of berries secured-by-ropes to be delivered to the cannery or the cannery pick up point. The countless late afternoons perfecting my topspin forehand playing tennis against Jun, Glen, or Cathy. Jay catching a perfectly spiraling football thrown by me. Playing a competitive game of 21 at Alex’ basketball court. Watching Leah dance to a Madonna song played from a tape on her boom box. “Shooing” Spunky away, the always curious cat. Waiting to catch the soaring softball thrown high by Jojie. Buying French fries at Ke-Lin or ice cream treats at Silverdale’s Dairy Queen. Cleaning up baby Ron from his soiled diapers. (No sh*t Ron, or should I say “sh*t yeah” --- one of the few unpleasant memories from that time.) Helping Sonya gather the air-dried clothes hanging on the clothesline in the backyard. Watching scary, rented VHS, movies in the big room downstairs. These are just some memories of my summers spent in Bainbridge Island. I have plenty of rich memories of those carefree days --- memories that always bring a smile on my face and memories that are forever etched in my mind.

All those memories, just from my first mouthful of fresh, tart raspberries. I will have to do this more often and endure the tartness of raspberries so I can relive the precious memories of Bainbridge Island.

I don’t have many pictures of my summers spent in Bainbridge Island. If I do, they have not been scanned electronically. But I know many family members have their collection of pictures from that period. I would love to have copies of some of those pictures.

1 comment:

  1. this post unlocks a lot of memories for me. i don't really remember you wiping my ass, but i do feel you on the raspberries and how simple things can become unexpected triggers. i had a similar experience when i visited my lola in the bay not too long ago...

    =====posted July 28, 2008

    me: is that ampalaya by the window?
    auntie mimi: yep. you're lola's been asking me to bring her some yarn and i kept wondering why. but she couldn't wait, so she made that out of some left over cloth.
    me: do you remember how tatang used to have a web of ampalaya just outside our kitchen window?

    as we pull up next to the nursing home in vallejo i couldn't help but notice the bittermelons outside the kitchen window | the bowl of rebosado cooked exactly how my tatang would've cooked it for my little brother | the longanisa with tomatoes and bagoong | the deep fried zucchinis | left over pork chops | sliced mangos | and the torta lola was still frying when we arrived | all the dishes tatang used to prepare for us on those summer afternoons since we were little kids running around in his backyard | and now the gardens of our childhood have slowly disappeared | my lola is no longer in seattle | and as we move forward with our lives | we often forget that simple old man who used to water the flowers every morning | our grandmother's eternal reflection | but sometimes the taste of certain foods | the laughter in her eyes | or the web of ampalaya in front of the kitchen window | unexpectedly | become a portal to his soul

    reference: http://www.ronaldantonio.com/images/ampalaya.jpg