I was in Dallas last weekend for my daughter’s graduation. I stayed with my mother in law and sister in law. My brother in law flew in from Oregon. Friday morning, we were sitting around the breakfast table – my sister in law had already left for carpool duty – and my mother in law brought out the itty bitty strawbabies.
That’s what my daughter used to call strawberries – “strawbabies.” These babies made normal strawbabies look like strapping toddlers – they were tiny, stunted little berries, dark pink nubbins with bumpy beige seeds. We were pretty sure they were edible; how could anything that looked so much like a strawberry not be a strawberry? “They are wild strawberries, no?” I suggested Googling a field guide to edible north American ground fruits.
“Did you try one?” my brother in law asked his mother. He peered into the bowl and shot me a quizzical look. I shrugged.
“No,” she said, looking from him, to me, to the little glass dish full of berries plucked from the back yard. I pictured them growing out of a dried mound of dog poo. They looked exactly like I’d imagine strawberries looking – if I grew them. I tried to imagine my mother in law, friend to all growing things, bending over to pluck them – to wash them and store them in this tiny glass dish, to contemplate their purpose in life. Surely, they must have a purpose.
What the hell. “I’ll try one,” I said. Too late, it occurred to me that I ought to have filmed this for YouTube, to tuck between balut and tripe.
My mother in law held out the tiny glass dish, in which there were probably seven or eight miniature, mutant berries. I reached for one. “Wait!’ She snatched the bowl away, took it to the sink, and began bathing them. I wanted to say, “Don’t give me too much time to think about this,” but washing them did seem prudent. Especially considering my sister in law’s two dogs. Meanwhile, my brother in law was using his smartphone to search for things like “poisonous things that look just like tiny, stunted strawberries, but aren’t.”
My mother in law brought the berries back to the table just as my brother in law announced: “There are no poisonous plants that resemble strawberries…” and so I popped one of the little things into my mouth and chewed.
“Seriously?” What a let-down. “That tastes like dirt.” I thought for a minute, savoring the amazingly dry, tasteless little berry on my tongue. “No, remember when you were a kid – did you ever chew on a wooden pencil? Or suck on one till the wood was wet?”
I was pretty sure he was going to hang me out to dry on that one, but he nodded.
“Well, that’s what this tastes like. A soggy, wooden pencil.”
“Hah! Yes. Exactly. Number 2.” Well, considering the fertilizer, it wouldn’t have been surprising, but in fact, it just tasted like wet pencil.
My brother in law went on reading his phone. Suddenly, he got a concerned – then horrified – look on his face. “Oh, no…”
“What? What ‘oh, no’?”
“It says, ‘Caution: This delicious-lookng fruit may look like a strawberry, but it’s not. It’s the deadly wood strawberry…'”
“WHAT?” My mother in law looked like she was about to have a heart attack. At the word “deadly,” she popped one of those berries into her mouth and began to chew vigorously.
“What are you doing?” I asked her. I looked at my brother in law. “If this is a joke, it’s not funny – and your mother just ate one of those things. What the hell?”
“That’s what it says here: ‘This delicious-lookng fruit may look like a strawberry, but it’s not. It’s the deadly wood strawberry: It looks so good when you pick it, but has absolutely no flavor when you eat it, causing you to die of disappointment!”
I burst out laughing. He showed me a picture of the deadly wood strawberry – sure enough, that’s what we ate. I looked at my mother in law. “What were you thinking?”
“I ate one, too, because I didn’t want the police to think I poisoned you!”
Well, gee… thanks, Mom.
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