Tuesday, July 13, 2004


Growing up in the inner suburbs of Philadelphia I didn't meet real cherries often.

A jar of syrupy maraschinos stood in the door of the fridge for dad's highballs, and in the Acme you could buy Frank's Black Cherry Wishniak soda.

I must have had real cherries, but the first taste of them I remember was while moping through Europe as a teen-ager. In an open-air market in a Swiss town called St. Gallen, a pile of black and red cherries tempted me. In my purchase I mistook ""kilo'' as roughly the same as ""pound,'' and walked off with vastly more than I could eat, too embarrassed to admit my American ignorance.

I shared them with everyone on the bus, and we all had red tongues. I was with a girl, too, and I remember how clever her fingers looked picking the cherries from my hands.

You can get a cherry any day of the year, out of a can or at some grocery store. But in Lancaster I do weekly shopping with my son at Central Market. The world beyond the grocery stores still moves in cycles and seasons.

For a book I once wrote I spent a lot of time feeling how life was in the early 1800s. Take away the false colors everywhere _ in cars, clothing, billboards and magazines. Then feel how spring comes on, after five months of solid dun and gray, with a riot of flower-hues and green grass. It could bring tears to you.

Just so, fruits come and go in the market stands with a satisfying affirmation of loss and return. Strawberries arrive in June, like puppy love, perfect a day and soon spoiled. In July, the cherries come, mature and supple in your mouth.

Most are Bing cherries, named for a Chinese workman on an Oregon farm in the old West. They're tart and sweet by turns, and as the month goes you remember how differently the dark ones taste than the bright reds. The harvest peaks in the third week; it's the week I was born.