California Strawberries

Sweet, with bittersweet memories.

StrawberriesThis morning, as I cut up some fresh, ripe California strawberries for breakfast, I found myself thinking back to April days in the late 1980s.

Back then, I worked as an Internal Auditor for ADP. Each spring, in April, they’d send a team of us — usually 3 or 4 auditors — out to their La Palma, CA location. In those days, I lived in New Jersey with the man I’d later marry and a three-week trip to California at the tail end of winter was like a gift from heaven.

They put us up in the Embassy Suites (now a Radisson Suites) up the road from Knotts Berry Farm, each in our own suite. (Back in those days, a “suite” was really two rooms.) Great breakfast every day, happy hour every evening. We really got to know the staff and used to party with them once in a while. There was one rental car for each pair of us, so ground transportation was not a problem. 9 to 5 at the office a few miles away, then on our own with expense accounts for R&R in the evenings.

There was a set of high tension power lines running alongside the hotel’s property. And there, under the power lines, they farmed strawberries.

That’s not the only place, of course, Fresh local strawberries were all over southern California in April. Strawberry shortcake in every restaurant. I especially remember a place near Disneyland in Anaheim. My brain keeps telling me it was called Carroll’s, but I can’t find it in Google. We joked that it was Paul Bunyan‘s restaurant — the portions were enormous. Even the flatware was huge — a soup spoon could not fit in my mouth. The strawberry shortcake there could feed a whole table of people.

On weekends, we had the option of sticking around or using our hotel allowance to pay for lodging elsewhere. One year, I met up with fellow auditors working in the San Francisco area for a trip to Lake Tahoe where they skied and I sipped spiked hot cocoa. Another year, we went to La Jolla and stayed in a hotel on the coast with a trip into Tijuana.

The trips to California were three weeks long and we were given a choice: fly home one of the two weekends or have someone from home fly out to California. Each year, my future wasband would fly out on the second weekend. (That was back in the days when he preferred to spend his vacation time with me rather than with his mother.) We’d do something fun together over the weekend and then he’d spend the week goofing off while we worked, taking the rental car to explore the area. He saw the Spruce Goose and Queen Mary, drove up the coast, and did all kinds of things during his free vacation. At 5 PM, he’d be back in the parking lot with the rental car to pick us up.

When the job was over, I’d take my vacation, tacking a week on to the end of the trip. One year, we drove out to Death Valley and Las Vegas. Another year, we explored Kings Canyon, Sequoia, and Yosemite National Parks. We’d car camp — he’d bring our camping gear with him in a big duffle bag — and explore. They were some of the best vacations I had, visiting beautiful places with the man I loved, back when he seemed more interested in the beauty of the world around us and having fun than buying expensive cars and other assets he didn’t need and couldn’t afford. Best of all, the trips were remarkably affordable with the airfare for both of us covered by my employer.

When I moved out of my Wickenburg home last year, I left behind the photos I took on those trips. They’re in photo albums of prints painstakingly laid out afterwards to share with family and friends. I wanted to forget that part of my life and the man, now dead, who I shared it with. But too many memories survive, even without the photos.

And they can be triggered by something as simple as the look, smell, and taste of fresh, ripe strawberries from California.

2 thoughts on “California Strawberries

  1. Quite a story. Yes, food, smells, places, songs, and so much more can trigger memories, that’s for sure.

    Re the strawberries here in California, they’re wonderful and prolific when in season. Hopefully this time around you’ll set and have new and happy memories of your times here now, too. :-)

    Be sure to pick some up from a farmer’s market or roadside stand, if you can, as they are the best. :-)

  2. I bought some yesterday at Raley’s. Wanted to get some at the Farmer’s Market on Sunday, but the person I was with seemed to want to rush me through. They would have been good with the waffles he made me a little while later, though. Hoping to grow strawberries in my garden back home. I don’t expect them to be as good, but it’s always nice to grow your own food.

What do you think?