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Stories from the Farm

Uncle Hank's Strawberry Jam

At "Fieldstone Farms," we got up with the sun, planted our garden according to the moon, rested on Sundays, and sent our annual order to Sears & Roebuck in the fall, after potato harvest.  So, when I could smell strawberries ripening in the fields, I knew it was time for Uncle Hank to arrive for the summer.  He was my favorite relative, and in my eyes, he would have been absolutely perfect, except for one glaring fault.  When it came to my mother's homemade strawberry jam, he was a glutton – and I do mean a glutton!  The quantity he consumed was downright shameful, if not sinful.

Uncle Hank was my father's younger brother.  He was a school teacher in Glenfield, but he remained a farmer at heart.  So, when school got out for the summer, he took off his suit, and even though he only lived a few miles away, he closed up his house and moved back to the farm.  He parked his little, black car by the barn, and for the next two months drove nothing but tractors and farm trucks, except on Sundays, when he would drive us to church in style.  Uncle Hank worked hard, but he always made time for playing with me and furthering my education.  We re-enacted the Revolutionary War in our fields, conducted science experiments on the front porch, recited Shakespeare while fishing, and tested Galileo's theories under the stars.  It would have all been perfect, if it hadn't been for his strawberry jam problem.
So why did his little indiscretion bother me so?  Well, I was the one who had to pick the strawberries to support his habit.  The fields were endless, the task was enormous, the mosquitoes were abundant, and the berries were tiny.  (No one in Glenfield had even heard about cultivated strawberries.)  When the picking was good, it took about two hours to fill a bucket, and that only made one batch of jam.  For two weeks, while the berries were ripe, I was expected to pick at least one bucket each day.  "Your Uncle Hank eats a lot of strawberry jam," Mother would remind me.  As the years went by, I came to resent his gluttony and all the work it created for me.  I started to forget his good qualities, and in subtle ways, we drifted apart.

Years later, when it came time for me to go to college, and we were short on funds, Uncle Hank was there for me.  After I got my degree and first good job, I tried to repay him, but he refused the money.  "Consider it a down-payment on all the strawberry jam," he said with a wink.  My guilty conscience nailed me, and for the rest of his life, I made sure he was never without homemade strawberry jam.
I now live in his Victorian, on the "Green" in Glenfield, which he left to me in his will.  "Please accept my home as final payment on the jam.....and if you choose to live in it, each summer, please fill it with the sweet smells of homemade strawberry jam."  I think Uncle Hank would be happy to know that "The Glenfield Preserve Company" makes its home in his kitchen, and the delicious smells of homemade jams fill his house on a regular basis.  (He doesn't need to know these days I use cultivated berries.)

In the end, I decided that Uncle Hank wasn't a glutton; that was just the way a selfish child saw him.  My father once said, "Nobody is perfect, except for your mother, and even she has her faults.  It's just that I have loved her for so long, I can't remember what they are."  Love will do that.  And sometimes, love and the passing years show us that the faults we see in others are actually our own.  The earlier in life we come to see this truth, the happier we are. 

Copyright © Fieldstone Farms, Inc., 2008
All rights reserved.


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