Tales of the Great Recession | The Nation


Tales of the Great Recession

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Strawberry Fields Forever


by Deborah Ghim

Seventeen years ago, when my mother was pregnant with me, all she ever wanted to eat was strawberries--at least according to the stories that I've been told. Some of them involve trips to the local Jewel at 2 in the morning. Others involve detailed descriptions of a very irate pregnant woman and her demands for Godiva chocolate-covered strawberries. My father jokes that even in the womb I had expensive tastes.

And it seems that little has changed since 1991. Though I've matured some since I was a fetus, my strawberry cravings have remained the same. Because I don't really have an appetite in the morning, my breakfast has become a regular routine: ten medium-size strawberries, one-quarter cup of fat-free yogurt and four ice cubes thrown into a blender.

When the recession hit its peak this past year, my father called an emergency family meeting. The Ghim family, he announced, was going to start cutting back. It was a well-prepared and predictable speech, as was the family's reaction. I vowed to stop leaving my laptop on at night, and Douglas, my little brother, promised to turn the faucet off while brushing his teeth. These were minor sacrifices, my father reasoned, things we should have been doing anyway.

A couple of days passed and the economy continued to plummet, but still the Ghim family did not cut back. Douglas did not turn off the faucet while brushing his teeth. I forgot to turn off my laptop every night. It wasn't as though we were too well-off to feel the financial strains. On the contrary, we could easily define ourselves as lower middle class in terms of income. It's just that with our house paid off and no debts to haunt us, the world of foreclosures and eviction notices seemed relatively remote. The recession merely meant that I had to car-pool more often to save gas money.

But one day my father came home from the grocery store with a solemn look on his face. I went to help him put the foodstuff away in the kitchen. When I turned to stow the eggs in the refrigerator, he put his hand gently on my arm and told me in a quiet voice that he hadn't bought any strawberries this time. "They were $6.50 a pound," he said incredulously. "That's five times what it used to be when you were born."

I tried not to laugh. He was being overly dramatic. I said that it was really OK, but he proceeded to apologize several times throughout the day. "You don't understand," he told me. "When I got married, I told myself that my kids would get to eat whatever they wanted. They wouldn't have to go through what I did. I might not be able to buy you an iPhone, but I should damned well be able to buy my daughter some strawberries."

A month later, the price of fresh strawberries dropped to $2.25 per pound. I know this because when I came home from school, my father was in the kitchen, washing fifteen pounds of strawberries. I watched as he cut off each stem. Half of them would be in the fridge for me to eat that week, and the other half he'd put in a Ziploc bag to freeze for later.

"Why don't we just buy frozen strawberries?" I asked. "This is a lot of work for something that they already sell in a bag."

"My daughter is going to eat fresh strawberries," he sniffed. "Nothing with those nasty preservatives. I may be too poor to buy you strawberries next week when they get up to $6 again, but I can still provide for you."

I don't ever remember hugging my dad for as long as I did that day. Since then, I've remembered to turn off my laptop every night before I go to bed. For me, the recession's impact has come more on the human level. I know economic struggles are real, but my father has shown me an aspect of the recession defined by responsibility and compassion.

I have college looming in the near future, and I'm terrified that I won't be able to afford it. Still, I know it'll all work out. I know that I'll be responsible with my money, not just for my future but for my father. I'll always remember the work he did to provide for his family. And most of all, I'll always remember the way he smiled as he stowed two Ziploc bags full of strawberries in the garage freezer, humming "Strawberry Fields Forever."

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