Raspberries, Brigham City and My Parents

Last week we defrosted the freezer. Everything except a big bag of raspberries had been used up by the time the appointed day arrived. Not wanting to delay an already overdue event, we decided to dump the raspberries out into a steel mixing bowl and put them in the fridge until vague plans of doing something with them could be realized later. By that evening they were good and thawed, so I picked a couple off the top and popped them in my mouth. And although they had spent the better part of 2019 in our freezer, they were surprisingly fragrant and tasty, and I was immediately transported back to 400 East in Brigham City.

While I was born and raised in California, my grandparents and most of my aunts and uncles lived in Las Vegas, St. George, Provo, and Brigham City. When I was a kid, our summer vacations were spent working our way northwards along the I-15, watching baseball games with Uncle Bob in Vegas, eating jello with shaved carrots and canned fruit at Grandma S’s in St. George, tubing the Provo River with cousins in Provo and grazing through Grandpa and Grandma C’s garden in Brigham City. We had an orchard and large garden in California—and I am here to tell you that there is simply nothing better than a ripe peach still warm from the sun—but Grandma and Grandpa C had things we didn’t—raspberries, blackberries and cherries—in their backyard. I tasted those fruits for the first time in that irrigated outpost of paradise on the Wasatch Front, and the place remains linked with the taste and aroma to this day, even though my grandparents have long since passed away and, judging by the satellite photo on Google Maps, the current owners have let the garden and even trees die.

Picking cherries in Brigham City

But death is part of the natural cycle of life, and Dad died two years ago today. He grew up in the remotest corner Nevada has to offer—no small feat in a state of remote corners—and was recruited right out of college to one of the remotest corners California has to offer, where he was put to work applying his engineering skills to the Cold War effort. Utah was never really home to him, but it’s where his parents moved shortly after he flew the coop, and as far as my youthful self was concerned it was where he was from since that’s where Grandpa and Grandma lived. So when my wife surprised us with fresh raspberries for lunch today, I couldn’t help but think of Dad and better days. For example, birthdays celebrated with white sheet cake and raspberry topping on my parent’s wedding anniversary (and as a twin there were four of us jostling for recognition on that special day!) and going up to the mountains to get firewood.

Moving to California in a late-1940s Packard

Dad built the house I grew up in with the help of his dad, father-in-law and oldest children in 1970. At the time, the utility company gave customers a better rate per kilowatt hour the higher your electricity consumption was, so upon someone’s recommendation Dad installed all electrical appliances and heating. Then the 1973 oil crisis changed those calculations, and Dad ended up installing a Franklin wood burning stove to heat the house in winter. I mean, sure, we lived in a desert, but it still got down below freezing at night. So part of the drill in summer was going up to the Sierra National Forest and making the most of the woodcutting permit Dad would purchase (four cord minimum). Finding dead trees, cutting them into pieces the length of a chainsaw blade and hauling them up the hill to the road (it was always uphill) was back-breaking work, but we looked forward to it for two reasons—the relative cool of the high Sierra and picnic lunches. Over time, this tradition likewise became indelibly linked with a particular flavor—Mom’s lemonade, which she made as a special treat by the gallon and transported in glass jars with the screw tops sealed with wax paper.

Snow in the desert; in the background is the 1948 Ford stake bed truck that would be used to haul firewood a few years later.

Mom preceded Dad in death by three years, but these tastes of childhood linger on and sustain the memory of our parents at family gatherings and even unexpected moments while doing mundane household chores on the other side of the world where I otherwise encounter very little in my day-to-day routine that reminds me of Mom and Dad. But for today I am grateful for raspberries, and I think tomorrow we are going to have Dad’s famous Awful Waffles (every Saturday he would make waffles, which in his view were best topped with applesauce and powdered sugar) for Family Night.

Comments

  1. Lovely.

  2. The cities would be different. The story not much. Canned fruit, waffles, ditches. Home. Thank you. (We topped waffles with grated cheddar cheese and maple syrup. Because that’s what Grandpa and Grandma did.)

  3. Thanks for sharing these beautiful memories, Peter.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Love the reminiscence. Reminds me of a time when my beloved aunt who lived in Syracuse UT (now deceased) offered me some home grown and canned raspberries from her food storage, and I ended up eating the whole jar’s worth. My older and much more responsible sister was mortified and apologized, But my aunt just laughed and said she was glad I liked them so much.

  5. A Packard. My grandpa owned one. Days gone by. Thanks Peter.

  6. Don Lawrence says:

    Beautiful story. Well written. You should pursue writing. Seems you have “genuine” material. I think it would appeal to many many people hungry for “true” stories about families that “worked.” Thanks for sharing this snippet. I am old enough to remember the Waltons TV series. But I am an avid Wallace Stegner and John Steinbeck fan. Love your story.

  7. What Steve said. Thank you Peter.

  8. Eileen Davis says:

    This is fun reminiscing because it brings the past back to life. Love the stories. I am in my 30s, so I only remember the 80s. I remember picking raspberries at my Grandma’s house in her Indian Hills home in Provo.

  9. Thank you all for the kind comments.

  10. There’s a quality to this that opens my own memories of times and people long gone, very different in detail yet somehow just the same in significance. It’s almost like I’m NOT the only one who remembers, after all. Thank you.

  11. Perfect, Peter. Thank you.

  12. Thanks. This is beautiful.

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