Mrs. Toke

For seven long years I spent every summer toiling in my mom’s fruit stand.  It was called Schiller’s Fruit Stand, and was right beside the Super Valu in downtown Osoyoos.  I started at age 13, and mercifully when I was 19 mom decided it was her last year after 20 long summers.  However, during those seven years when I was there, I worked ten hours a day, six days a week.  When I mentioned this factoid to my children, Nicky replied drily, “Good for you.”

This was explained to me as actually being very leisurely, as during the summer, my mom worked seven days a week, sixteen hours a day.  My grandma was in her seventies, and was cooking several dozen jars of jam in an un-air conditioned house every day.  These were trucked to the fruit stand and sold.  My grandpa, in his eighties, helped prepare the fruit, and my dad worked out in the orchard.

It was therefore unheard of that one would complain about their cushy 60-hour a week job.  Plus, there were some happy moments in there.  For one, the Sun Rype delivery guy was always a hunk, so once a week I was able to flirt outrageously.  Then, there were the lunches of Kentucky Fried Chicken, and afternoons of ripe cantaloupes filled with soft ice cream.  Did I mention I was a bit of a butterball even then?

Because mom thought peach fuzz detracted from the appeal of the fruit, all peaches had to be wiped of fuzz prior to being artistically placed into a basket.  The cherries were arranged into a kind of a dome, all stems pointing down, and thus invisible.  The jars of jam were all polished and placed on dusted shelves.

And then there were the riotous phone calls to Mrs. Toke.  The Tokes grew tomatoes, and as the summer wore on, the tourists’ appetite for local tomatoes would grow to a fever pitch.  They would shop at the Super Valu, then walk by our fruit stand on their way back to one of the motels lining the lake.  Of course, they would stop in for some local fruit and the prized tomatoes.

Every few days, a panicked phone call would go out to Mrs. Toke for more tomatoes.  Often they would also be low, and Mrs. Toke would say they really didn’t have any.  It was the phoner’s job to convince Mrs. Toke that somehow tomatoes must be deliverd, and she in her nasal voice would whine, “We can only try.”

And thus is has become the battle cry for people such as my pal Alison and me.  When the chips are down, we will say, “We can only try.”  And as I now feel the weight of the fruitcake season pressing down on me, I try to meditate on this mantra.  When I think about the phone calls I still have to make, the samples I have to deliver, and then the unending task of packaging before me, I just thank God for Mrs. Toke.

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