Finding the time...working hard!
In any case, it began with strawberries. The Abbotsford area was perfectly suited to grow strawberries. So in spring, as soon as school was out, we would be bunked in the basements of the owners of these huge strawberry farms. Then for about three dreadfully long weeks, we would be crawling along the endless rows of strawberries dragging huge, back-breaking flats behind us -- combing each plant carefully for every strawberry we could find. To leave even one behind was a cardinal sin.
After strawberry season, we were trucked back to the blackberry patches closer to Chilliwack -- actually right next door to our house. Even though the vines of these patches were considered domestic, picker-friendly, and thornless, the branches were still covered with soft barbs that had the same capacity to scratch as the wild patches. I know -- because sometimes I had to pick both types. Not only was it dangerous, the blackberries were soft when ripe and had to be handled very carefully -- tedious!
After blackberry season we hit raspberry season, which lasted the rest of the summer right into swimming season. At least the raspberry plants offered some shade on hot days and we could stand while we picked the berries. It was by far my most favorite plant and favorite season.
In the evenings, if we had picked our quota, we were bundled off to Cultus Lake for an evening swim -- a treat beyond all treats.Oh, that trip through those cool dark forests, winding up the side of the mountain until the lake came into view was life-reviving. And then that mountain lake, so, cool, so deep and so crystal clear was irresistible. I remember running along the long wooden docks, passing the children's section, passing the junior section and jumping straight into the deep, dark water -- with no fear of drowning ever -- because I had that wonderful capacity to bob like a cork....
Often we would be joined by my cousins. I had six girl cousins on my mother's side -- same age, and two boy cousins on my father's side -- same age. It never mattered which side came with us.
Well, maybe I preferred the boys -- they weren't afraid of jumping "over our heads." With them, we would rush right over to the deepest end. Without even warming up to the water, we would just jump off the deep end -- defying all warnings that we would get cramps and surely drown.
That was the best -- canonballing into the water, right beside the huge diving tower. The exquisite plunge of my tiny, hot, berry-weary body into the cool lake water that got colder towards the bottom -- a bottom that I could never touch.
Then, at the end of the summer, we were back in Abbotsford picking beans. This was even worse than blackberries. Beans are ugly. They felt ugly, tasted ugly, and looked ugly. They didn't pack easily either.
On top of this, I didn't feel well. I always had a stomach ache all summer -- that got worse right after lunch, or if I had to stand too long. The lack of sympathy from everyone around me was almost worse than the pain. No one believed me. It was too convenient they said. Without even taking me to a doctor, I was diagnosed as psychosomatic. Actually it wasn't until I had a gallstone operation in my early twenties that the stomach aches finally went away.... They had been real. But real or not -- it didn't stop me from the forced labor of picking and picking and picking.
The only saving grace during those dreadfully long summers was the conversations. Oh, we had great conversations. I learned about life -- about the birds, and the bees and the bubble gum trees.
Yet through it all, I dreamed of my typewriter -- sitting abandoned in my makeshift writing studio. I just couldn't get to my writing. When I did finally get to it, I found my white paper had wrinkled with the dampness.
But that didn't stop me. I laid the sheets out in the sun for a bit, and then banged out words as fast as I could. I found that picking berries hadn't stopped me from dreaming about writing. Early fall, I had three chapters done.... and then I stopped.
“A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought. There is visible labor and there is invisible labor.”
― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables