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In Relation to Strawberries

A Love Letter to My Granddaughter

By D. Thea BaldrickPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 9 min read

Dear Brynn Willow,

The spring after you were born, while your grandfather prattled wonderland style nonsense to your listening flower of a face, your brother and I planted strawberries. We dug holes, laid a layer of compost, snipped the end of the roots and spread them out. He held the plant upright while I replaced the soil.

The plants had come from my mother, your great grandmother, who had bought too many for her own garden. She is slower than she used to be and when she reaches the garden she sits in a chair, but still, she grows a cornucopia, adamant as always that it be organic. Her garden is brimming with biology: flying, crawling, burrowing insects, creeping invertebrates like snails and earthworms and nematodes, lurching spiders, a field mouse, a black snake, a red-tailed hawk on a redbud tree, and high overhead on a dead branch of a catalpa tree, a vulture, watching.

Once when I was child, my mother went to the fish market which is long gone now and collected a bucket of fish heads destined for the refuse bin. She dug a trench, poured the remains along the bottom, shoveled in a layer of dirt, then planted the row of strawberries. The next year, the fish head strawberries were as big as the palm of your hand. Fifty years later during your first spring there were only a few blossoms on the strawberries your brother and I planted and fewer fruit, but I expected a good crop the next year, even without the fish heads.

The next winter was difficult. While your parents worked and your grandfather jabbered endless funny word strings at you and with you, I homeschooled your brother who was in kindergarten. The coronavirus raged out there in the world and we were all afraid for your grandfather who had been hospitalized many times at the brush of more benign flu symptoms. You won’t remember him but somewhere deep in your brain you have his voice prattling the silly uncapturable snippets he regaled you with as you sat on his lap in his wheelchair, a little round queen on a movable throne. He told, not stories, so much as scenarios, crocodile-laced swamps and incoming balloon missiles, word plays that were so creative and ridiculous only an infant awash in a sea of sound or a child deep in a make-believe world could comprehend. Even on the days he was feeling his worse, he managed to dredge up a rain of banter for you and your brother. He cared for you while your mother and father worked. In some ways he still cares for you as we all try to make up for his absence. And you filled his last years with fits of chuckling. He said to me once, “You know I don’t laugh easily, but those two grandkids of ours can crack me up all day long.”

The coronavirus never touched the household but during that winter into the spring, your grandfather grew progressively weaker. I worked the night shift in a lab and was chronically sleep deprived. That May the weeds grew rampant in the little strawberry patch and the strawberries, hidden in the mess, were accidentally mowed down.

When I saw the destruction, I cried out, distraught, running to see if any could be saved, but I tripped and fell in the grass, which was cool and I was so very tired.

Your brother asked, “Are you OK, Gigi?”


And you, one and a half, crawled onto my back and rested your face between my shoulder blades.

Before last summer was over, we had lost your grandfather. The school year began and while your brother was at school and your mother was teaching, and in between finding a shared comfort in books and arguing over who does what and how, you taught me how to wonder again. You are fascinated with everything alive. When you recoil from the jumping spider on the table and I capture it and show you how it turns to look at us, you are entranced. We follow a line of ants to see if we can follow them home, but they disappear into a thick stand of grass. During a hike, we find black and orange milkweed bugs swarming on their host plant, and after we watch them and walk on, you pull my hand to go back and see again. Too uncertain over the scurrying abundance of life to do it yourself, you insist I hold it and turn my wrist to watch the little harlequin crawl over my palm.

You run around in your loose summer dresses, telling stories to yourself. You talk to the horses in the field next door and then come to tell me sadly that their noses are too far away to pet. Your sentences are round and precise and balanced, like dew drops held in place by a light surface tension.

Likewise, the midmorning sun has not reached the strawberry leaves yet. The leaves are still cool enough to support the fused molecules of water that had accumulated during the night. This year, the year after he died, there has been a lot of rain, not a sad rain, but warm and soft to carry the nutrients in the soil to the hungry roots. The strawberries are fat, ripening fast. Despite or because of the shearing last spring, the strawberries keep refilling the bowl, like the never empty crockery in fairy tales. We look closely at the strawberries together. The yellow flecks look like seeds but are not. Within each speck lies the true seed. The speck is the ovary and the red berry is its universe, a red-shifted universe, truly, because everything, including you from the moment you were born, is moving away from us.

Just after we were told that you had been born, a nurse came out to all of us in the waiting room and asked for me by name. She brought over a box, the contents of which were going to be stored and frozen in case it was needed in the future. I checked and signed that it was there. Yes, one raw sausage of a pink tissue, your umbilical cord, was accounted for. Was it part of you or your mother? It was a runner, a stolon, which in strawberries, once the daughter plant had put down roots, was unneeded. You had no need of it either and hopefully never would; but I felt honored at being chosen to sign for it. Strangely, it did not feel very different than when I was twelve and at my father’s funeral. They had folded up the flag on his coffin and handed it to me, the eldest and only daughter. Half of the emotions were opposing, of course, joy for you, grief for my father, but the surprise and the sense of honor were the same.

The week before your mother turned seven, your grandfather and I discovered she had juvenile diabetes. I made strawberry shortcake for her birthday; low-sugar biscuits, topped with strawberries in which the carbohydrates were counted as carefully as possible, topped by an elf-shaped cap of whipped cream. That strawberry shortcake has roots of its own. Some of our ancestors invaded this country and displaced and depopulated the people who were here first. The native people shared a recipe with the colonists; cornmeal mashed with wild strawberries, bake it, eat it. Because of your father’s grandfather, you also have ancestors that belonged to those first peoples and these woods. Like you, the recipe for your mother’s seventh birthday is a mix and an adaptation to change, but it was first made here in the Eastern Woodlands, bounty from the forests around my house in which you now run.

“What is that?” you ask, pointing.

“It’s a wild strawberry.”

“What’s a wild strawberry?”

“It’s the cousin of the great-great grandfather of the big strawberries we eat.”


“You want to taste it?”


I pick the tiny fruit, red goosebumps decorate a white center. It is no bigger than the nail on your little finger. You pop it into your mouth and I watch your expression, thinking that the sweet taste of candy that you sometimes eat would assuredly drown out the subtle flavor of a wild strawberry.

“Mmmm,” you say, considering, “is there any more?”

“It looks like that’s the one.”

But later, while playing amongst the violets, you cry, “I found another one!”

“Let me see. Yes, it’s a wild strawberry.”

“Can I eat it?”


Again I watch. After a second bite of a new food, you often decide that you don’t like it after all, but slowly you savor the berry again, “Mmmmmmm.”

On your mother’s side in Bavaria, some of the people still bedeck the horns of cattle with tiny baskets of wild strawberries for the elves. Perhaps it entices the little people into gestures of goodwill. The elves, like you, love the sweetness of the tiny berries.

In your play, you put everything into a familial relationship forged by emotion or proximity or time. You know this as an instinctual truth although you may not realize it yet. Your father’s mother was adopted. Adults may tell stories of history and ancestry based on similar configurations of nucleic acids but you know that is irrelevant to your bond to Nana. The strength and quality of your connection with her is undeniable.

You hand me a big button. You keep two smaller ones.

“Hi, Mommy,” says the button in your hand.

“Hi, Baby,” I say, or rather, the big button in my hand says.

“I’m not the Baby. This littlest button is the Baby. I’m the Little Girl.”

“Hello, Little Girl.”

“We’re Buttons,” says the Little Girl Button.

“Hello, Little Girl Button”

“Yes, that’s right,” you say as if bestowing a good grade.


And you are quite right, too. Everything builds from the relationship, not least of all the story in the play. As the connections are forged, so are we. Sever the hydrogen from the oxygen and we no longer have water. Some of the oxygen is breathed out from the leaf and some of the hydrogen is reconnected to carbons to fill the berry with fructose. The same hydrogen was made by a star once upon a time. Everything is connected if not by space, by time and reassembling.

Strawberries with an alphabet of vitamins and half the periodic table of minerals, have juice that is red, vibrant, and translucent, liquid light from a red sun. We sit on the back stoop, watch the fireflies play at being stars, and we eat strawberries. The juice runs down your chin, drips into the soil, and returns to the embrace of the roots.


Me to You

extended family

About the Creator

D. Thea Baldrick

By wedding two strange bedfellows, bachelor degrees in Biology and Literature, the resulting chimeric offspring are stories laced with science. I publish with thecollector.com and Underland Arcana. Unearth at dthea.com

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