Gabe’s mouth was ringed red from the strawberries he’d been mashing into his face, his fingers stained the same color. But he was happy. Carla was not nearly as jubilant, more concerned about the one dot of juice that had tarnished the lace on her denim dress that I had tried to convince her not to wear to the farm.
Stubborn eight year old.
“Oh righty ma’mam, looks like your crew here did some fine pickin’!” The cowboy hat-wearing farmer smiled at my kids as he loaded our strawberries onto the scale. “Looks like we did some fine taste testin’ too.” He winked at Gabe who popped another strawberry into his mouth.
As our strawberries were bagged, I watched Carla absently rub her finger over the stain, her face crest-fallen.
“Can I get you folks anything else before we ring ya up?” He stood there with his thumbs through his belt loops, tapped the steel tip of his boot into the dirt. I must have looked over at Carla because he knelt down in front of her.
“Ah, I see here we have a problem.” He cocked his head lower so he could make eye contact with my daughter who hadn’t yet looked up at him. “You are frownin’ and ain’t nobody leavin’ my farm with a frown.” She looked up but her eyes were blank, her finger still covering the stain. “I think maybe you need some of my famous sugar snap peas!” The farmer snapped his fingers. “That will do the trick. Did ya know, that sugar snap peas are the cure-all to frowns?”
I chuckled as Carla’s face scrunched up in confusion. He really wasn’t making any sense, but at least she wasn’t frowning. “Come with me, come come.” He stood up and waved her over to the vegetable stand behind the scales. “Pick out a box that looks good to ya.”
Carla studied the display of peas and hesitantly reached up to select a box. “No! No, not that one.” She snapped her hand back and looked at him, wide-eyed. “That one isn’t the best, you have to pick the best. Hmm. How about this one?” He pointed and she stood up on her tippy toes to see and then nodded at him.
He bagged up the peas and added it to our strawberries. “No, no, the peas are on the house.” He waved me off when I tried to pay him for the addition. “You just make sure this girl of yours eats them all the way home, she’ll be smiling by the time ya arrive.”
At the station wagon, I buckled Gabe into his car seat and handed him another small box of strawberries. Carla started to climb in next to him but stopped. “Mom, can I sit in the way, way back?”
I debated the request, but it was the first time she had spoken since the damning stain situation had ruined her day and when I nodded, a smile briefly graced her cherub face.
Setting her up in the rear-facing seat, she pulled the peas into her lap and held one up. “What do I do with the skins?”
“Hmm, how about I open the window and you see how far you can throw them?” Another smile crossed her lips, lasting just a few seconds longer than the first.
In the rear view mirror I watched her toss pea skin after skin out the back window. Her hair flew around her face from the wind tunnel. I thought I might have heard a peal of laughter.
Home in our driveway, I unbuckled Gabe and went around to the way back of the wagon. Carla was still snapping peas into her mouth, her beautifully smiling mouth. “Can I stay out here a while longer and finish my peas?” Gabe came around and looked at his sister, “Me too?” I picked him up and placed him on the bench next to her.
Carla showed him how to snap the peas and eat the fleshy marbles inside and then fling the skin as far as she could. Gabe popped some peas and then made his first throw, the skin falling to the floor still inside the car. They both laughed.
My children stayed in the back of the car until every last pea was eaten, every last skin flung. I had a strawberry pie in the oven by the time they came inside to wash up. The evil berry stain on the dress was forgotten. Only the memories of the day on the farm and snapping peas in the way, way back, remained.