Gooseberry Afternoon

Contributed by: Sally Charette, California

My mom and I sat on the wooden bench swing in Cousin Audrey’s back yard and watched little white butterflies tip toe across the Queen Anne’s lace while Audrey fixed us a snack. I was seven or eight years old and if I’d met this elderly twice-removed relative of my dad’s before, I didn’t remember.

I grew up loving the taste of sour rhubarb and cooked bitterish dandelion greens, so my mouth watered when Cousin Audrey carried tall glasses of iced tea and slices of homemade gooseberry pie to us on a painted metal TV tray. She sat down opposite us and spread a little embroidered napkin on her lap.

While my mom exclaimed about how good everything looked, I pressed my fork through the flakey crust making sure to get a plump gooseberry in my first sweet-tart bite.

My eyebrows shot up as the utterly unsweetened pastry assaulted each and every taste bud on my tongue. I struggled not to spit it back onto the saucer. I grabbed my glass to wash it down and found it, too, lacked any trace of the sugar I was accustomed to in my tea. My eyes watered.

I held the little plate on my lap while I watched Mom take her first bite. Her mouth twitched. She blinked, swallowed, and managed to smile at Cousin Audrey.

“I hope it’s all right,” Cousin Audrey said, finishing her own first bite. “I’ve got the sugar diabetes now, you know, and the doctor says no more sugar for me.”

“Well, you have to follow doctors orders,” Mom said.

I looked at my Mom wide-eyed as I leaned forward to deposit my barely-touched pie on the TV tray.

“If you’re not hungry right now, honey, it’s okay.” She turned to Cousin Audrey. “We had a big lunch.”

The worn wooden slats cut into the backs of my legs as I listened to the two women catch up on family news between bites of scorchingly sour dessert, and felt very very lucky not to be a grown up.