The red Chevy pick-up pulled over to the fruit stand and came to a rest. Jack Jennings opened the door and stretched his long legs. As he approached the stand he smiled at the small red-haired girl as he handed her two bucks for a small basket of strawberries. This was the weekly ritual every time Jack’s shift ended at the fire station.
Once home he entered the tired farmhouse and rinsed the strawberries before heading out the screen door to his back porch. He sat back in the rocker with his feet resting on the rail while savoring every bite. To Jack Jennings strawberries weren’t just food – strawberries were memories.
As the sun began to set he recollected his younger years. He and Shannon Hanson first met in the 2nd grade. Shannon lived in Shady Grove subdivision - the affluent area of Watsonville. Jack lived in Pine Cone Trailer Park.
Shannon’s father was a doctor – Jack’s father was a truck driver.
Shannon’s family belonged to the Country Club – Jack’s dad was a regular at Fat Boy’s Barbeque.
Jack never knew his mom; she left to become an actress. Years later she was seen waitressing at a truck stop in Tahoe.
But Jack learned in the 4th grade that although money could buy happiness, and provide full size candy bars to Trick or Treater’s on Halloween, it could never keep death at bay.
At the tender age of 9, Shannon lost her mom to cancer.
When Shannon lost her mom Jack was there to hold her hand. They would climb up into Shannon’s tree house with crackers and a jar of her mother’s strawberry jam. With precision of a surgeon Shannon would spread the jam on the crackers - careful not to waste a single drop of her mother’s last labor of love.
Jack recollected how Shannon dreamed of becoming a doctor like her father. She had a white doctor coat and every stuffed animal she owned wore band-aids. She was using terms like triage, intensive care, and ICU before entering middle school.
During the summer months she and Jack would swim at Pinto Lake and bask in the sun. They held hands while running through fields of strawberries at Shepler’s Strawberry farm. She loved the Beatles and her favorite song was ‘Strawberry Fields Forever.’
Shannon was a tomboy until she entered high school. She played on the tennis team and Jack never tired of hearing her say the word ‘Love’ when scoring.
Jack on the other hand was an introverted bookworm. He wore the color black and bought a Harley. Shannon’s doctor dad refused to let Shannon ride on it.
Although they evolved into polar opposites they still went to the Prom together and danced cheek to cheek to ‘Yesterday’ by the Beatles.
After graduation they retreated to the tree house one last time and finished off a jar of jam made by Shannon - her mother’s recipe.
The following week Shannon left for Stanford. Before climbing into her VW Beetle they shared their last kiss with tears in their eyes.
As he reminisced he wondered what ever happened to Shannon Hanson. Her father had since retired and moved to Palm Springs.
Jack rose to his feet – walked inside and grabbed the keys to the Harley. The roar of the bike would quiet his lonely heart.
On impulse he pulled into the parking lot of the Santa Cruz County Fair. The sign said ‘The Berry Best.’ Parked his bike and smoothed his dark hair. Paid admission and began meandering through the midway.
He paused to look at the carousel; ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ was playing. The lacquered horses rotated in the amber haze of sunset.
“Excuse me.” A voice echoed through the chaos. Jack turned to see a plump woman with a cherub face. “Could you assist us with the judging at the food pavilion?”
Jack and looked around before answering. “Why me?”
“Because son, you look like you could use a few extra calories.” The aunt Bee look-a-like laughed.
Jack shrugged, “Sure, why not?”
Once he reached the red and white checked tablecloth with a dozen jars he surrendered to a blindfold along with two other captives.
Each taste of jam blended blandly into the next.
Until the very last entry – savory to the taste.
The judging was complete.
Jack removed his blindfold as the winner was announced.
“First place goes to Dr. Shannon Hanson.”
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