During World War II, many American families devoted a portion of their lots to producing some of their own food. This was considered patriotic, since much of the food was allocated to support our troops and the war effort.
Many homes had “Victory Gardens,” ranging in size from a few meager rows of vegetables to multiple rows of corn, tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, squash and every vegetable imaginable.
Others, like my family, also raised chickens and distributed eggs to the neighbors. Only when a chicken became too old to produce eggs was it destined to become Sunday dinner.
After the war, most victory gardens disappeared, as food was now abundant in a growing number of grocery chains. Some, however, continued maintaining gardens to feed not only their family but also to sell the excess fresh vegetables.
One of these was a man we kids named Farmer Kelly. He maintained a huge garden on an empty lot next to his house. Farmer Kelly took much pride in his weed-free garden and worked very hard to maintain it.
One day in early June, two friends and I were surprised to see that some of the rows had pretty splashes of red among plants. At age 10 and 11, we were curious to explore these rows, and to our surprise we found row after row of ripening strawberries.
My friends and I began picking and eating the berries until one day Farmer Kelly burst from his back door, yelling, “You boys get out of my garden and don’t ever come back.” We did get out, but we couldn’t wait to come back. We were addicted to lush, vine-ripened berries.
Farmer Kelly’s field was large enough that we could enter the garden at the far end of the field, out of sight from his windows. We decided if we entered here and crawled down the row flat on our stomachs we could reach the strawberry patch undetected.
We decided to give it a try.
Slowly we inched our way through the dark, rich soil, dragging our bodies past the vegetables to the patch of luscious berries.
After a few short minutes of eating berries, Farmer Kelly’s back door flew open and from his back porch two blasts from his old shotgun rang out before he broke the barrel and reloaded.
Without hesitation the three of us stood up with hands raised over our heads and pleaded, “Don’t shoot, Mr. Kelly.”
Farmer Kelly, dressed in faded overalls and a denim shirt, approached us, shotgun in hand with a slight grin on his face.
“I told you boys not to come back, but I wasn’t shooting at you. Every hour or two I come out and shoot to scare the crows away,” he said, as he broke into a hardy laugh, “Got me some big crows today. You boys go home and when its time to pick the berries, I’ll give you some to take home.”
It was a Tom Sawyer event from my childhood that I recall every season when strawberries ripen.
I have loved strawberries to this day and will always remember Farmer Kelly.