Tomorrow is my older sister’s birthday. To me, summer has always belonged to my sister. It’s her season. She embodies it. Her soul seems to be made of the elements of summer. I wrote this poem a while back about how I will always associate her with summer. It’s only fitting I share it on the eve of her birthday! If you love aspects of summer, you’d love her. When I feel summer, it is like she is right next to me. Happy Birthday!
My sister was always the one associated with strawberries.
Her July birthday cake, always ‘strawberry flavored.’ She
had the the Strawberry Shortcake dolls. She even dared
to try to name our childhood dog ‘Shortcake,’ which
in a moment of compromise became ‘Chewy Shortcake.”
She was the summer girl. Black hair, tan skin.
Summer lawns, a bright personality fresh as a bowl of strawberries.
Her personality is much like a strawberry, bright,
juicy, filled with summer. June would come
and my grandfather would be on the phone
as soon as he got notice the strawberry’s were ripe.
I’ll be around at 6 Am,’ he call and inform us.
He was never late, always early. Overly concerned,
the masses would come and pick all the ‘good berries.’
Never a morning person, my dad would have to ‘have a talk,’
with my sister about commitment.
“He’s going to be here at 6, so you need to be up and ready.’
There was no mincing of words. My father,
a younger version of his father, had the same
need/desire to ‘get to the fields early, and let my sister know,
she had to be on time. She always was.
It was the one time that this was a truth for her.
Her eyes, tired, bulging like strawberries,
she was determined to be awake and ripe for the picking.
The time of the strawberries was a signifier
that we were about to enter into the core
of the humid Midwest summers, which included
my grandpa’s birthday and my sister’s birthdays.
It meant my dad would take one of his rarely taken
vacation days to spend hours in a boat with my grandpa,
fishing. Another event you had to get up for,
even earlier than the strawberries. Home
by early afternoon, just as the heat kicked in,
they’d clean perch in my grandpas’s backyard,
The foul smell, the flies swarming, I’d choose
to stay inside and play Old Maid or other card games
with my grandmother. No patience.
Talks to the bait. Not a fishermen
They’d say about me. In summer,
my dandelion hair would get a chlorine tint
of sushi blue. He’s a fish.
He swims in anything for hours?
My dad said to his friend who just
filled his new below ground pool with
cold water from a hose. Perplexed,
they’d wait on the beach as I dove into
the numbing lulled waves of the cold Great Lakes.
We watched the movie Splash,
and I dreamed of being a merman.
Of course, I hated fishing,
I was born one. They could have just looked up
my horoscope, two fish in opposite directions.
No need though. I had all the signs:
dreamy, inpatient, only satisfied in the water,
talking to the minnows. I could handle
the early strawberry mornings.
Strawberries were an indulgence.
I could seamlessly swim through the rows,
picking up sweet berries whenever one
shouted out to me. I could be lackadisical
and just lay down in the dirt and daydream
under the June sky. They’d pick obsessively
trying to fill their buckets forgetting
they’d brought me along. My sister
was the strawberry picker, the better fisherman,
the warmth of a July sun you couldn’t ignore.
I was the fish. The spring that might
be strong and present or completely absent.
The fish that might not surface for a while.
For her birthday, it was always strawberry cake.
specially ordered from the one corner bakery
in town that made it. It was served
in our backyard filled with people
as the final July days bled like fireworks into humid August nights.
My birthday, a marble cake, a few family members
crammed in our small living room
and a pot of Sloppy Joe’s.
In all the pictures of my birthday,
my sister stands next to me with a tired smile.
I’m wearing my homemade birthday crown,
completed weeks before my birthday in my room
with some construction paper and stickers.
In the pictures, I stand smiling bright in my pajamas, the darkness outside
and bags underneath everyone’s eyes evident,
I had surfaced. I could go for hours unnoticed,
but when I surfaced, the splash was felt
earlier than my grandpa’s horn in the driveway
before sunrise on the first morning
of strawberry season, signifying
summer had arrived. The berries
sweet and ripe, peaking. My sister,
surrounded by fields of berries.
Her smile like the sun,
extending from early morning
throughout the day. I can still feel myself
watching her from a distance,
like you imagine the moon watches the sun,
amazed by her brightness,
her radiance, the way
she embodied the fun, bright spirit
of summer with an ease
like she just jumped out of bed
and threw summer on
effortlessly, always fitting her
like it was designed specifically to fit her being, her soul.