Volume XVII, Issue 20 # May 14 - May 20, 2009

Bay Reflections

After the Strawberry Storm

To my great grandfather, the strawberry storm signified the end of winter and the beginning of a new day.

Anything could happen, and the sun always shone brighter

by Kathi Hanna

My great grandfather, Johnny Burns, died at the age of 98 when I was in high school, several decades ago. He was a character, an Irish immigrant who never lost his sense of humor or his optimistic view of the world, no matter what the obstacles. Even though he worked in “service” at hotels in Philadelphia, he never tossed off his sense of formality or his dignity. I hardly ever saw him without a bow tie or a hat. In summer it had to be really hot before he reluctantly donned Bermuda shorts, but even then with dark socks, hard-sole shoes and a dapper madras shirt.

Grandpop Burns swore by the inevitability of “the strawberry storm,” which would come in early to mid May. It was preceded by cool weather, then a horrific storm with high winds and torrential rain. After the storm, the strawberries would be plush, and good weather was on the way. He did not stop wearing his winter long johns or switch to his summer straw hat until after the strawberry storm. To him, the storm signified the end of winter and the beginning of a new day. Anything could happen, and the sun always shone brighter after the storm.

For years, every spring, usually in May, when we would get a strong storm with wind and plenty of rain, my grandmother (his daughter) or my mother (his grand-daughter) would say, “Well, that was the strawberry storm. Now we can get on with spring.”

Thirteen years ago, in May, my son was riding his bike on our property in Barstow just hours after a torrential rain. He was eight years old and full of himself. He rode his bike down a hill full speed straight into our pond, which was fed by an ancient stream that led to the Patuxent River. He was wearing his brand new Adidas sandals — I remember that they cost $19.99, far too much for beach sandals — but he really loved them.

His bike, and his feet, got stuck in the muck of the pond bottom, churned up from the recent storm. He dragged his bike out, but the sandals were gone, forever encased in the bottom of the pond. We searched for a while with the end of a rake and then gave up, hoping the sandals would surface in the coming days. They never did, and he was sad when they were replaced by cheap flip flops from Walmart.

On May 11, 2008 — Mother’ s Day — it started raining and it didn’t stop for over 24 hours. In Barstow, we had at least six inches. Our pond, which we had dredged the previous summer after the horrendous drought, jumped its banks on both sides and went headlong down the streambed, which was crossed by little footbridges we had put in place over the last 14 years. My mom called me when the rain finally stopped. “Well, this is the strawberry storm,” she said. “I guess spring is finally here.”

My son, now a college student, had just returned home for the summer. My husband was walking the property, assessing whether we had any damage from the monsoon rain. I walked with him through the squishy field to the banks of the stream. There, sitting in the middle of one of the footbridges, was an Adidas sandal, child’s size seven, as if it had always been there. It was in perfect condition and had somehow managed to stay put on the bridge despite the deluge of water going around it.

It was the perfect ending for the strawberry storm: To bring up something that had disappeared, supposedly never to be seen again, and remind me of a younger child, another storm and my great grandfather. If Johnny Burns had been here he would have laughed, nodded his head, and waited for the other sandal to surface. Maybe this year.

Freelance writer Kathi Hanna last reflected for Bay Weekly in October, 2005, on “Legos to Logos” (www.bayweekly.com/year05/issuexiii42/reflectxiii42.html).