Almost 20 years ago my brother came to visit us from Saskatchewan, bringing with him an unlikely gift.
A cherry tree.
Bringing a cherry tree, especially from Saskatchewan, does beg the obvious question…
Well, apparently this particular brand of cherry tree was prairie hardy, he said. The tree, he told me, would look good in our back yard which, at the present moment was barren of pretty much everything except a wild rose bush and a whole lot of potential. And, best of all, it would produce cherries.
Well, never in my life had I had any desire for a cherry tree, but, then I was an Alberta girl who grew up among the evergreens. Everyone knows they are prairie hardy! I never did hold out a lot of hope that Old Man Winter would be benevolent to any fruit tree, except maybe our trusty crabapple!
Against all odds, we planted the cherry tree, me all happy and optimistic and humming the song, “It’s cherry pink and apple blossom time.” It seemed fitting to hum such a song at the time. Anyway, I always sang when my brother came to visit because when he came, it seemed all things were possible, and life was good and happy.
Before long, I, who had never, ever wanted a cherry tree, decided it was a pretty cool thing to have. I actually got all smug and proud, bragging about it to anyone who would listen.
“Yeah, we have this cherry tree in our back yard,” I would say, slyly, waiting for a reaction. “It’s pretty cool. My brother brought it from Saskatchewan.” I would slide my eyes towards the corner of the back yard where I would gaze in rapture at the tree, especially if it happened to be covered in a froth of blossoms, smelling all delicate, like spring or fine white lace.
In spite of being mostly ignored, (apparently, cherry trees are good with that), our tree from Saskatchewan flourished.
This year, as in the past, we have a bountiful harvest. The tree, bless its hardy prairie soul, is laden with cherries. We could have cherry pie, cherry custard, cherry jam, even cherry soup if there was such a thing.
Realistically, I’m getting quite sick of it.
It started out great.
“Oh my goodness,” I said to my husband. “Did you see all the cherries on that tree? Isn’t it wonderful!”
So he picked cherries. And I picked cherries. And then we pitted cherries, using a straw to push those little pits out, a stiff gin and tonic, and determination.
I made jam. I made cherry pie. I made cherry soufflé and some other thing that tasted better than it looked. I froze cherries.
After using several pounds of sugar to sweeten whatever I was concocting, I could no longer move in my kitchen as my feet became stuck to the floor. Before long, everything was sticky, including me. I went to answer the phone and had to peel my fingers off of the receiver.
In desperation, I began coaxing relatives, friends, even strangers to come pick cherries. I offered them free food and drink.
No one came!
Still the cherry tree seems full of fruit, its branches heavy with little clusters of deep red berries, just waiting for someone to come along and help themselves.
My brother passed away a few years ago. And every year when my cherry tree springs to life, I think of him.
I remember the way his eyes crinkled up when he laughed and his eternal optimism and how he believed in things like cherry trees that would flourish in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
And, as I make yet another cherry pie in my sticky kitchen, I smile.
As usual, he was right!
Treena Mielke is the editor of The Rimbey Review and a columnist for Black Press.