Strawberries and Aprons

By Betty Lou Mell

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    My father’s a soldier and is fighting in a war a long way from us. But Mother and I get letters regularly that help bring him home for a while. First, we read my letter and laugh at the funny things he writes. When my mother opens her letter, however, she sits by the window and reads it alone. Once in a while she reads me part of it, but mostly she reads it silently, then stares out over the fields for a quiet time.

    Once I even saw Mother cry, and I knew she must really be missing him. That was only for a minute, though, and I pretended not to see. Then she wiped her eyes on her apron, folded the letter, and put it into a box. When she stood up, she smiled. “We must keep busy, Carrie,” she said as she smoothed my hair with a gentle hand. “Would you like to pin the pattern for me so I can cut more material?”

    I like to work with Mother. We talk about many things, like Father and the war or school; and before I even know it, time has passed, and I am hemming one apron as she is sewing the seams of the second.

    One day as we worked, a heavy knock sounded at our door and I jumped up from my chair to see who it was. “Hello, Mr. Briggs,” I said as I swung the screen door wide. “Will you please come in? Mother is sewing, but I’ll get her for you.”

    He nodded and stood with his hat in his hand, waiting.

    “Mother!” I said excitedly. “Mr. Briggs has come to see you.”

    She smiled and smoothed her hair, then untied and removed her apron. With her head held high, she went to greet our visitor. “May I offer you a lemonade, Mr. Briggs?” she asked.

    “No, thank you, ma’am,” he replied.

    I left them alone and stood by the front door, looking at his motor truck parked beyond the front fence, with BRIGGS EMPORIUM emblazoned on the side of it in bold red letters. After only a few minutes, Mr. Briggs came out onto the porch with Mother.

    “I’m sorry,” he was saying quietly. “If you’d like, I can keep the aprons and see how business is in Clarion County. The agreement will be the same, Mrs. Clancey. But with times as they are, well …” He shrugged and waited for my mother’s reply.

    She nodded and folded her hands, then forced a halfhearted smile. “Yes, do that, Mr. Briggs. It’s the only way they’ll have a chance of being sold. And you did sell quite a few in Nelson last month. Maybe Clarion County will be a better territory.”

    Mr. Briggs quickly nodded and said, “I certainly hope so, Mrs. Clancey, for both of us. But may I give you an advance?” he offered. “Just a little, to help you get by? I’m bound to sell some, you know.”

    Mother raised her chin slightly and shook her head. “Thank you, but no,” she replied. “If they don’t sell, I’d only have to pay it back. I’ll just wait and see. Now, how much do I owe you for thread?”

    After they settled their account, we stood on the porch and waved good-bye as Mr. Briggs and his traveling emporium drove down the dusty lane. Then Mother seemed to slump ever so slightly against the porch railing. She reached into her pocket and drew out some change.

    “He could only sell three aprons, Carrie,” she said with a sigh. “It paid for the thread, and that’s about all. What’s left is for tithing. Would you please put it in the jar for me, dear?”

    I took the change and frowned. “Maybe you should have taken the advance Mr. Briggs offered, Mother. We’re running out of a lot of things.”

    “Mr. Briggs would not have minded, dear, but I would have,” she said with a smile. “Now do as I say. Put the money in the tithing jar, then fetch the pail. We’ll forget about aprons for a little and weed the strawberries.”

    I knew we were out of flour and low on soap, but mother was always firm about God’s portion, so I did as I was told. Then I grabbed the pail and joined her on the back porch. She rolled up her sleeves and talked as we walked toward the strawberry patch. As we came closer, we could see white blossoms on the stems, but the nearer we got, the more red dots we saw among the lush green plants. The strawberries were ripe!

    She clasped a hand to her mouth in surprise. “Oh, look, Carrie!” she gasped. “Aren’t they lovely? And they’ve gotten ripe without our noticing them at all.”

    The aprons were gone from her mind as we knelt to pick the sweet ripe fruit. As I plunked them into the pail, I thought about the aprons, however, and how hard we had worked on them. Then, without considering, I asked, “Do you mind very much that we’re poor, Mother?”

    She looked up in shock and quickly brushed back her hair. “Poor … ? Carrie, do you really think we’re poor?”

    I was sorry I had spoken in such a thoughtless manner. “Well,” I stammered. “The aprons … I mean, Mr. Briggs sold only three.”

    She rubbed the back of her hand against her forehead, then threw back her head and laughed. “Darling, darling, daughter! Where did you ever get the idea that being without money means that we’re poor? Have I made you think that way? If I have,” she said with a smile, “let me explain something. Making and sewing aprons while your father’s away is useful. We make a little extra money and keep busy. But your father sends money home, and we have a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, food in our stomachs, and we owe no one anything!” Still smiling, she grabbed my hand. “Besides all that, how can you think we’re poor, when we’re sitting in the middle of God’s good strawberries with the juice staining your mouth?”

    She pulled me closer and put her arms around me tightly. “Look at that blue sky, Carrie,” she said, pointing heavenward. “Feel the warm breeze. And don’t you realize the amount of love your father and I have for you? All of those are riches—not riches that can be spent—but they’re riches of a far deeper, more lasting kind. They’re blessings from God. What more in all the world could we possibly want—or need?”

    I looked at the sky, then smiled and asked a playful question. “Well, how do we tithe our strawberries, Mother?”

    She laughed again and replied, “That’s easy, Carrie. We simply find someone to share them with. In fact, after dinner when it’s cooler, we’ll walk down the lane to Mrs. Fremont’s and give her a basketful of strawberries!”

    I not only loved mother—I liked her too. She had an answer for everything, and I learned many things at her side. Maybe one of the most important things I learned was what she told me that day. For I began to look for and appreciate all I received, because I finally realized that God’s blessings don’t always come in the way or manner we expect. But somehow they always come—just when they are needed most.

    Illustrated by Phyllis Luch