Author Archives: sammozart

Snow Comes Softly

December 2019 —Yesterday came cold and blustery. Flurries of Christmas shoppers arrived at the store where I work, and I felt good to be out among the people and greet them. Children, their animation electrified, anticipated Santa Claus’s coming to town. … Read more »

The Scheherazade Chronicles

“… the gap between compassion and surrender is love’s darkest, deepest region.” –Orhan Pamuk, The Museum of Innocence Once upon a time in the faraway land of my childhood, my mother held me on her lap in the rocking chair … Read more »

Fry ‘Em and They Get Tighter

After taking a season off to republish some of my earlier works, I am returning to post a series of excerpts from my upcoming book, Funny Farm Stories. Here’s the next:

I hadn’t been working at the farm market long when this guy came in, real friendly and nearly toothless. We got a lot of them coming into the stand off-season; they rose up out of the woods. Truthfully—that’s where they lived. We grew the best onion I’ve ever tasted, the Florida Sweet onion. The farm hands pull them out of the ground, wash them, peel off the outer, brown layers, trim the tips of the green tops to resemble a fan and that’s how we sell them. So, this guy comes in, picks out a couple of onions and brings them to the counter to purchase, raving to the other cashier, a Miami native, and me about how good they are. “They’re really good when you fry ‘em and get tighter,” I heard him say. We all laughed and agreed and he left.

“What did he mean, fry them and get tighter?” I asked my co-cashier. “What was he saying?” Being a Florida native, she would understand the accent.

“He said they’re really good when you get some potatoes and fry them together,” she translated.

“Oh, fry ’em with some ‘taters,” I said.

During February the weather was pretty much like that in Southern California, dry, low humidity and moderate temperatures. I liked this. Then March came. The bright sun glared so off the sand and pebble parking lot in front of the stand that I could barely keep my eyes open even when wearing sunglasses. The temperature shot up into the high eighties and so did the humidity.

“Does it get any hotter than this?” I asked my Miami coworker.

“Oh, yes,” she said, “a lot hotter.” Naturally, I could not imagine.

I thought she was kidding—until June. The heat and humidity swarmed around me, encased me, while the sun relentlessly poured molten yellow rays everywhere.

Yet, in the peak of July, at noon, I’d see senior citizens out taking their daily walk. “How do they do it?” I wondered.

–Samantha Mozart
for Carolina Gringo

Strawberry Table

Even though we offered a choice of selecting berries individually by the pound from the berry bar in the center of the store or already packaged, priced by the pint or quart, customers would sort through the berries in the baskets, rearranging them within a basket and among the baskets, women especially, looking like they were at a rummage sale for socks. Then they’d bring this quart towering with berries to the register. It reminded me of when I was a little girl and read this fairy tale about “The Village of Cream Puffs,” the place where Wing Tip the Spick lived a little girl with eyes “so blue, such a clear light shining blue, they are the same as cornflowers with blue raindrops shining and dancing on the silver leaves after a sun shower.” (From Rootabaga Stories, by Carl Sandburg.)

The story was illustrated with a picture of a little girl wearing two pronounced beauty marks, freckles, on her creamy white face with the strawberry red lips, and holding onto a tether of floating mountains of cream puffs capped with strawberries and whipped cream, stretching from here to the horizon. The Village of Cream Puffs is so light it must be tethered to a spool so when the wind is done blowing the people of the village come together and wind up the spool to bring the village back where it was before. Wing Tip the Spick’s freckles that her mother has placed on her chin look like two little burnt cream puffs kept in the oven too long, so that when she peers into the looking glass to brush her hair, she will be reminded of where she came from and won’t stay away too long.

Sometimes if the customer’s berry mountain was too tall for a plastic bag to scale and he or she had gotten the berries from the basket display on my checkout counter when I’d stepped away for a moment, I’d say, “Oh, look at this. Somebody sure filled these baskets unequally. Let me just take a few of these and put them in this half-full basket here,” and I’d grab a small handful out of the customer’s basket and replace them in the other basket. The customer never said anything.

–Carolina Gringo
as told to Samantha Mozart

Strawberry Planting

After taking a season off to republish some of my earlier works, I am returning to post a series of excerpts from my upcoming book, Funny Farm Stories. Here’s the next:

STRAWBERRY PLANTING

A customer walked up to my counter one day. “Tell me,” she said, resting her elbow in a quart of strawberries…

I pointed out that she was going to get stains. She removed her elbow and continued her question. I pictured the next customer arriving and saying to her companion, “Oh, these berries on the top are all flat. If they’re flat on top, imagine what they’re like on the bottom.” So when the lady with the elbow left, I examined the berries and picked out the flat ones.

We grew the berries on the farm, in the field right next to the produce stand where I worked. Because in Florida you can’t leave the berry plants in the ground year round, each spring we’d plow them under and in the fall replant. Each October Brad bought 33,000 strawberry plants and it took 12 Mexican guys a day and a half to plant them.

All the produce on the farm was grown in raised beds. So, before the strawberry plants were put into the ground, the Mexican foreman had to come along with the tractor trailing a big fork/tong-like attachment that looked like two long, cupped, many-fingered opposing hands which scooped the earth into mounds. Then he and a co-worker or two would put a roll of plastic on a spindle on the back of the tractor and lay the plastic over the mound. Afterwards, one of the co-workers would roll this huge iron spoked wheel, three or four feet in diameter, having spikes protruding regularly at right angles from its circumference over the plastic, punching holes in it. It looked like a Catherine wheel,

As soon as the holes were punched, the plants were set into the ground. After that, my two Mexican co-workers assembled and laid the sprinkler pipes. The foreman then hooked up the tractor to the well pump, started the engine to power the pump to bring the water from the well and sprinkle the strawberry plants from early morning till sunset for two to three weeks until the roots had grown and taken hold. By mid-December, we’d have strawberries. The berry production cycled in and out throughout the winter season, until April. My two, sometimes three, Mexican co-workers picked the berries for the farm stand or the customers themselves picked them from the field.

Although the farm was much larger, my boss farmed only 13 acres. He is a citrus expert, as I’ve said, and he owns and maintains a grove. He squeezed more work out of fewer workers than anyone for whom I’ve ever been employed. I suppose it’s like marching gladly to the gallows, for the workers produced willingly because he was funny and kind and rewarded us in other ways. We had one cashier, me, and in the busy season, two, to handle hundreds of customers a day. We worked nine to ten hours a day, and when working alone, without even a lunch break. We could eat lunch, but had to eat it in between or while waiting on customers. Two guys, and in the busy season, three, prepared the field, planted and cared for the crops, harvested the fruits and vegetables, washed them and stocked and displayed them in the stand.

In the evenings, just after I closed the stand, I’d see the foreman at the end of his twelve hour day out on the tractor spraying the strawberries and tomatoes and bell peppers and he’d look so tired, gray; I was afraid he’d fall off the tractor. I told Brad. He never fell off the tractor, though, and he sprayed the field from dusk into darkness without using the tractor lights.

For months we lived the farm. We had time for little else. Often we were exhausted. But we were outdoors: we had fresh air, lots of exercise, and fresh fruits and vegetables to pick from the field, free, including baskets and baskets of fresh, round, firm, succulent strawberries. As my real name is Carol, sometimes my two Mexican co-workers called me Carolina. I made up the Gringo part, being not so far from the truth. I also made up recipes from the fresh produce I picked from the field. Since I had neither time nor energy to spend at the stove when I got home from the farm, I kept my recipes simple and quick. I have included some for you at the end of my little book.

Carolina Gringo
as told to Samantha Mozart