When I was nine years old my parents sent me out to work in the fields, and by “fields” I mean raspberry patch and by “work” I mean a blatant violation of the child labor laws.
The raspberry patch was located several miles from our home and each morning during summer break, by the dawn’s early light, my mother would drop my brother and I off with nothing more than a crust of bread between us and a warning to pick our weight in berries before the sun went down.
We'd troop toward the weighing hut where the owner’s bellicose teenaged son would be picking his face and listening to heavy metal. After ignoring us a full ten minutes, he’d grunt out a number, meaning which row he wanted us to harvest. With the stealth of two ninjas, my brother and I would tiptoe to the assigned area.
Why were we trying to be quiet? Because these people owned a dog, which I now understand was a boxer but at the time believed to be a hound of hell. He had huge, slavering jaws, a flat, pugnacious nose that oozed muck, and the cold, sadistic mentality of a professional killer.
His name was Major.
Oh, Major...Major. How many times has my husband had to shake me out of a violent dream and ask why I was screaming “Down, boy!” ?
That dog had the ability to come out of nowhere, and in the middle of an endless row of raspberry bushes, the slightest breeze to ruffle a leaf could stop my heart cold.
“Major?” I’d whisper, “Major? Are you there?”
And it’s so bizarre, now that I think about it: if someone’s dog were to bite my kid, I’m pretty sure you’d see a small mushroom cloud rising up over Las Vegas for the fuss I’d make, yet it was not uncommon for my brother and I to come limping out of the raspberry patch at the end of the day, Achilles tendons severed, and my mom did not bat an eye.
But on the other hand—and this is no lie—those raspberries were the size of small huts. You could seriously plop one on the ground and take shelter in it for the night.
My brother and I liked to stick them on our fingers and stagger around moaning that we’d been amputated. Bloody fingers, we called them. Then we’d pop the berries into our mouths and I’m telling you--you can keep your sorbets and your fancy tarts, your mountains of whipped cream--there is no better way to eat raspberries than off your dirty fingers when you’re nine years old and worried that each moment could be your last.
When that job was over, it was at least a couple of years before I could look another raspberry in the eye. But now that I’m living in Las Vegas, a fact that has yet to truly register, I pass by those plastic containers of sad, shriveled berries in the grocery store and wonder if it’s worth selling a kidney to buy some.
And then I wonder what ol’ Major is up to, and whether the owner’s son ever went to the clink for weighting the raspberry flats, and then I wonder about a whole bunch of other things and suddenly an hour has gone by and I find myself standing in the middle of the cereal section with no way to account for half the contents in my cart.