The first feature that I posted here on Social Bridge was called ‘The Strawberry Man.’ I would like to re-post it with a short update as my contribution to National Strawberry Week in Ireland (June 4th-10th).
The Strawberry Man
Driving over Priest’s Road on my way to Newtown Cove for an early morning swim in the June sun, I see him setting up his table. Would summer be summer in Tramore without the familiar figure of the Strawberry Man?
I run down the wood at Newtown, passing the little wooden bridges which are bathed in dappled sunlight and watch the sparkling stream babble along beneath. The trees are hanging low, their leaves green and full. Birds are singing and flapping through the dense foliage. At the end of the wood, the Cove opens up in front of me, the cliffs still decorated with sea pinks, and the calm sea sparkling in the dazzling sunshine.
I plunge into the depths and feel such a sense of wellbeing and awe at the incredible beauty that surrounds me: sheltered cove, sun-kissed rocks, clear blue water reflecting the clear blue sky, the familiar arm of Brownstown stretching out into the open sea. The perfect start to any day! Where else in the world could I ever want to be than my Tramore?
Coming back towards the church end of Priest’s Road, I see that the Strawberry Man’s table is ready. The colourful tablecloth blows gently in the breeze and the wide green parasol signals that he is open for business. It’s now thirty years since he started coming to Tramore from his native Wexford and almost twenty-five years since he has been selling his produce in that spot at the edge of the car park which seems like his natural summer habitat.
Bluebells in Newtown Wood, sea pinks on the cliffs at the Cove and the coming of the Strawberry Man tell me that summer has come to Tramore. All this happens around the June Bank Holiday and while the flowers fade the Strawberry Man stays until Summer’s end. The season starts with punnets of freshly picked strawberries, new potatoes, rhubarb and cabbage but each in their own time, he brings raspberries, loganberries, gooseberries and blackcurrants.
What he also brings is cheerfulness, kind eyes and an uncanny ability to read the mood of his customers. He knows when the time is right for a few friendly words, a bit of banter, or perhaps a sympathetic smile. He stands tall, with greying hair now, and is softly spoken with a touch of that Wexford accent that is so distinctive and more like an American twang than any Irish accent I’ve ever come across.
Just as we have watched his children grow into adults, he has dealt with different generations of Tramore families over the years. As I bought my strawberries today, and was enveloped by that delicious aroma of newly picked fruit, I found myself thinking of my late mother. I was catapulted back to summer evenings when she would be making jam with the fruit she would buy from him. Nothing will ever match the delicious smell that pervaded the whole house when the raspberry jam was bubbling in the big pot on the cooker, while all the empty jam jars stood washed and ready on the kitchen table. August was the time for the blackcurrant jam and that involved topping and tailing pounds and pounds of the tiny berries. Mother liked to do this outside so we would sit on old deck chairs chatting, each of us filling bowls with prepared fruit and getting our hands stained and sun tanned at the same time.
As I make way for his next customer, and sample a perfectly ripened strawberry, I hear the fresh sound of friendly chat about plans for a picnic on the beach and how much the strawberries will be appreciated. I wonder to myself if the Strawberry Man knows how much he is appreciated, as well as his produce. Has he any idea of the extent to which he evokes Summer and how much we miss him when the season is done?
Just over a week ago, on the last Saturday in May, I was driving over Priest’s Road and felt a huge smile beaming across my face when I spotted the Strawberry Man standing at his familiar table. Of course I had to stop for strawberries and a chat. He greeted me with that glow of warmth that defines him. This is his 32nd season in Tramore and he amazed me by saying that he is always a little nervous coming back on his first day but that he has developed a huge love of Tramore and her people over the years. How he could be nervous was beyond me because I know how much he is loved and how is viewed as the the true sign that Summer has arrived in this lovely town of ours.
We were deep in talk about the way living on the land gives one deep insights into nature and the seasons when a man arrived to buy strawberries. ‘Great to see you back. Summer’s definitely arrived.’ The Strawberry Man thanked him and it was soon clear that they had known each other for years. All the while, I was tempted to dip into the punnets that had that delicious scent that you only get from freshly picked sun-kissed ripe strawberries.
Just listening to the two men talking, I could feel the Strawberry Man relaxing back into Tramore and felt that lovely anticipation of a long, Tramore summer garnished with warm red strawberries.