SurrenderWe set out the sugar and packets of fruit pectin and line up rows of clean glass jars on Daddy’s knife-scarred butcher block in the kitchen. Then we pick blueberries for jam in the steamy July afternoon at McClan farms. My bathing suit dries under my overalls while we work. At first, each one plunk, plunks to the bottom of the bucket. But soon there is no sound. The berries hold each other while the handle of the bucket drives a deep pink groove into my palm.

It’s dark in the hayloft above the McClan store, and the loft smells sweet and dry. If you’re lucky, you might spot a barn kitten moving between the dried flower bouquets that hang from the low beams like an upside down meadow. The thick air gets me dizzy. Dust swirls in the yellow sprays of light that shoot through cracks in the walls. I like to crawl between the lavender, to feel the weight and heat of its delicious age.

Downstairs, Meg McClan weighs our bushels and ushers them into cardboard cartons using her fingers like a rake. She wears a canvas apron with gardening gloves peeking out of the front pocket. She tells my mother how she worries about her son who is still in Iraq. My mother asks about Hanks’ corn stand—this is the first summer we haven’t seen the green and white striped tent out on Route 22, promising the sweetest corn in Washington County.

Not up this year? she says.

They lost a son to a silo accident, Meg tells her. The boy fell in and drowned.

Then she cuts a slice of crumbly cheddar off a big wheel and hands it to me in wax paper with a smile that is hard for her.

That family, that poor family, my mother keeps saying on the short ride home. I twist in my seat and watch the berries bouncing in the back. I can’t see it, the accident. Apart from friendly looking tractors and the wafts of sick-sweet manure that linger in the valley this time of year, I don’t know about the mechanisms of farms. I only know the boy’s brother tried to save him, and he couldn’t. He had to watch him disappear into a machine that was at the heart of their family’s life.

That was nearly ten years ago, and the spot where the Hanks sold their sweet corn is still like a thumbprint on the side of the road, a patch of flattened brown grass and not much more. I suppose they simply surrendered, the Hanks; could not, would not pick up the pieces. But how can I begin to understand. Another farm stand took its place a half-mile away. Sheldon’s, it’s called, but my father calls it Shelducci’s, like it’s a gourmet Manhattan deli—the shelves are lined with fancy relishes, organic grass-fed meats, handmade sausages, and local artisan cheeses, all too expensive for actual locals to buy.

Nina Boutsikaris earned her BA in writing from Ithaca College in 2009. She currently works as a writer and literary publicist in New York City.


Photo by Maria Romasco-Moore