‘The Strawberry Man’ was among the very first pieces that I posted here on Social Bridge. It had been published in our local paper, The Munster Express, in July 2010 and has huge personal meaning for me as it connects me to people, places, emotions, memories, and hopes that are intensely special.
I’m thrilled to report that the Strawberry Man is back for this season. We had a great chat this morning ~ and his smile was brighter than ever. He said that he’s a bit overwhelmed by the welcome he’s receiving from his ‘regulars’ but, in his humble way, he attributed that to the fact that he feels that people see him and think: Oh, here comes Summer!
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?