My Mama: A Cherry Story

May 10, 2015




“Well, aren’t you going to congratulate me?” Mrs. Gilburg stops us in the produce section, a big sack of red cherries hanging in her paw.

My mother smiles a little nervously. “Um, I guess I don’t know, Carol…is there something I should congratulate you about?”

Mrs. Gilburg’s lips purse in affront. She looks pointedly at Mama and pats her hips, onetwothreetimes. “Well, obviously, I’m pregnant!”

She looks the same to me, still shaped like a circus big-top, but I don’t say a peep.

“Oh! Oh my gosh! Of course! Carol, that’s wonderful news,” Mama says brightly, and they start talking about due dates and swollen ankles but I’m not listening anymore because I can’t stop staring at the cherries in Mrs. Gilburg’s hand. They’re so deep red they’re almost purple, and they shine, plump little jewels of juicy summer sweet.

It takes all of my self-control not to steal a cherry out of the bag, because it’s gaping open on one side, the hole growing larger as Mrs. Gilburg blathers on and on.

Finally she turns, plops the bag in her cart, and says, “Pray for a girl. Fifth time’s the charm, right?” and Mama promises, even though I’m pretty sure God doesn’t answer to anybody, not Mama or Mrs. Gilburg or even President Nixon.

We watch her as she leaves, duck-like.

I’m not supposed to beg for stuff at the store–it’s a rule–but I can’t help it. “Hey Mama, can we get some of those cherries?”

I’m expecting the usual answer, which is: “Is it on the list?” I always get that answer and that answer stinks, because boring stuff like fruit cocktail and cabbage and tuna fish are always on the list.

Mama takes one look at the price of cherries and her eyes bug. “Oooh, no. That’s just…that’s just above our budget, honey.”

“God! I hate being poor,” my sister says, disgusted.

“We are not poor Miss,” Mama says, danger evident in enunciation. “We are on a bud-get.”

I don’t care what word you use. Poor, budget, doesn’t matter. It just means no cherries, no cherries for me.


Mama blows cigarette smoke, cradling the phone between cheek and shoulder. “How on Earth was I supposed to know she was pregnant? She always wears those tent-like muumuu things. Jesus.” She paces, twisting the phone cord around her finger. “That’s five kids. Five. How the heck do they feed them all?”

She’s talking to Daddy, who is away on business again. He’s away on business a lot.

Mama stomps out the cigarette and gives a sharp little laugh. “Five kids, Ronald. Damn, we can barely scrape by with two.”

Mama rarely throws a swear, but when she does, it’s a “damn.”

Mama is dangerous when she “damns,” so I hustle out the kitchen door and through the garage. I wheel my tricycle out to the paved walk and ride backandforth, backandforth, down our side of Chestnut Street, because Mama will kill me if I cross.

Neal Gilburg lets the screen door bang behind him and crosses the street, heading my way. Mrs. Gilburg must not have Street Rules. Neal is my age but he’s twice my size. “Husky,” is what Mrs. Gilburg calls him. It’s something you grow out of, she says, but I’m not so sure. I’ve seen Neal’s older brothers and I don’t think they grew out of anything.

He’s got a fistful of scarlet cherries and he pops one in his mouth, throws the stem onto the street, chews fervently and then spits.

“Hey, Neal,” I say, eyeing the red bundle.

“It’s boring around here,” he says, stuffing another cherry in his mouth.

I shrug.

I don’t talk for a while and he just eats.

“We wanted to go to the pool but my mom’s too tired.” Spit. Spit.

He’s out of cherries. The cherries he had a whole fistful of and didn’t offer me a single one. Neal is doughy and heartless and doesn’t understand the rule of sharing, because if you have a fistful of cherries it’s not okay to just plow through them like a beaver and never say, “Want one?”

Neal sighs, still bored, and looks down at his empty hands. “Gonna get some more,” he says, and leaves me on the pavement, straddling my tricycle.

I think about watching Neal eat more cherries and I’m pretty sure I can’t do that. I get off the tricycle, eyes burning, and walk it back to the garage.

When I enter the kitchen, Mama’s off the phone, pulling loaves of bread out of the oven.

She startles at the slam of the door, puts the bread on the counter, and still wearing her oven mitt, hunkers down to see.

When she’s done seeing, she gives me a pat on the head and returns to the hot pans of bread. The bread she makes from scratch because we’re on a budget. She lifts one of the pans, tells me to sit still, and walks across the street in her apron and her oven mitt.

She returns a few minutes later, with a coffee cup filled with cherries and tells me to go on, go on to the porch outside.

I sit on the warm pavement and close my eyes, feel the juice running clean and sweet down my gullet. I spit the seed out, far as I can. I can spit those seeds out farther than anybody, I reckon. Even farther than Neal.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Considerer May 10, 2015 at 3:57 pm

I see why you shared it again – it’s sumptuous. I’m glad she got you your cherries in the end. I reckon by then you could’ve spit them to the ends of the world :)


Dana Talusani May 11, 2015 at 6:12 pm


Later in life, I got very good at spitting out sunflower seeds, but cherries are sexier. :)


Annie May 10, 2015 at 6:23 pm

This right here is why you’ve become such a wonderful mama and why in turn your girls will be wonderful adults. Generations of women with the gift of truly seeing others.


Lisa Sadikman May 10, 2015 at 7:58 pm

Gorgeous vivid piece! Loved it so much and I bet it sounded amazing out loud. New to your blog and loving it.


Dana Talusani May 11, 2015 at 6:11 pm


Thanks for coming by! Hope you stay around a while :)


Biz May 11, 2015 at 7:25 am

Ah, I love this one Dana. I too grew up in a family that was on a “budget.” One of my most memorable meals though? White bread, crisp bacon topped with mozzarella cheese under the broiler. The edges of the bread were toasty, the middle was gooey and the salty bacon and cheese was just perfection for me.

Looking back I don’t remember there being a vegetable or fruit or side dish of any kind, and I imagine that’s all we had in the fridge and what came out was perfection to me.

Happy Mother’s Day!!!


Sherri May 12, 2015 at 4:15 pm

Love your stories – always right there with you. Such a knack for detail you have (did I just sound like Yoda there?).


denise April 30, 2016 at 8:01 am




Ayala May 1, 2016 at 7:10 am

Love this. Xox


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