Although I grew up in a loving, nurturing home, as it want to happen, there were outside negative forces that created challenges and tension. Finances were always tight – both my parents worked full time outside the home, with my father usually also working a second job. And nostalgia ran rampant in our home. Immigrants tend to live longing for a place and a time that no longer exists.
I spent most of my time with my nose buried in a book and there was a particular season when my obsession rested on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series of books. I imagined myself facing the brutal mid-western winters in our Southern California backyard and with the help of my little sister, built a lean-to for us to escape.
And escape we did. We would sit back there for hours, weaving stories of hardships completely unknown to us except for Laura’s input. Sometimes I would be stricken blind with some outdated malady, other times my sister would be lost in a blizzard. But we always made it home safely to our lean-to.
Somewhere along this journey of play, I began to save up my weekly .25 allowance, realizing that if I saved 4 of those shining quarters, I could purchase a pint of truly American blueberries. For .99, I could eat the fruit of the prairie. My mother didn’t quite understand why I insisted on forking over a month’s worth of allowance for a precious pint of these blue orbs, especially when she always made sure we had our fill of bananas, oranges and the inevitable papaya.
But blueberries were something special.
Sitting in our makeshift lean-to, slowly popping one berry in my mouth after another, I savored what it meant to provide for myself. My imaginary crop failures, blizzards and assorted 19th century ailments were so much easier to handle than my mother weeping at night for her family back home, my father exhausted and frustrated at not making ends meet and the inevitable negative people and forces life sometimes thrusts upon a 9 year old. But here I stood. Hunched over our little “house in the yard”, the taste of survival, self-reliance and yes, belonging, lingering on my lips.
Dare I say it? Blueberries taste of victory.