Smultronstalle; ‘place of wild strawberries.’ a special place discovered, treasured, returned to for solace and relaxation a personal idyll free from stress or sadness.
The Swedish countryside reminded me of England’s farmland and meadows. There was so much open space broken only by a few trees, hedgerows, red houses and barns. All of it was circled by gigantic lakes and wide rivers, which were dotted with islands. On the shores, small docks with pleasure boats moored up, waiting to be taking out on adventures.
I could walk the countryside and lake shore for hours, sometimes even take the small boat out on the lake, lost in my own thoughts. Until my step-dad, Hugo, appeared in his old black jeep, claiming, ‘ I’ve been searching all over for you, Lacy! It’s time to come home now.’ Though it wasn’t really my home that was back in England with my dead grandparents, father and brother.
The Swedish house was a huge three bedroom bungalow with a massive kitchen, living room, dinning room at the front of the house then a walk through pantry with the bathroom and a short hallway into a snug room. This joined the back of the house were the bedrooms where. Outside there was a nice decking seating area, a large rectangle lawn surrounding the house and half hidden in the left to go wild back garden was a small wooden sauna.
It’s a world away from the two down-two up terrace house I had grown up in with my grandparents. Dad and my brother Alex aged ten, died in a car accident when I was three. Mum couldn’t cope so her parents looked after me.
Then mum meet Hugo, a rich businessman who’s half English half Swedish, they married and had a son, Oscar, and decided to settle in Sweden moving between Hugo’s summer house in the countryside and his smaller house in Stockholm in the winter.
I hadn’t seen them or even been to Sweden until two months ago when my grandma passed away, almost three years after grandpa had died of the same lung cancer. I didn’t want to come but being seventeen it was either that or go into a foster home and that really didn’t appeal to me.
Of course, mum was shocked when I agreed to move to her and even more so when she met me at the airport.
‘You’ve grown so much, Lacy!’ mum had said, ‘you look more like your dad then me. It’s all that curly dark brown hair and you wear glasses too. Your eyes are brown like his were. You have my freckles though! But you’re tall like him, he had really long legs. Well, you’ll be able to show them off. Sweden is hotter then England in the summer, but the winters are so much colder!’
I don’t hate my mum or step-family or Sweden, it’s surprisingly nice here and there’s very little traffic or people about. It’s so much quieter, stiller and cleaner then the council estate. Most of the field are either for food growth, left wild or for animals to graze on, which are mostly horses. This area is famous for it’s prize winning horses across all sports.
I sometimes like to sit and the watch horses in the fields when I come across them but most of the time I just walk around. That is the one draw back to living around here; there is nothing close by. The nearest shops are a twenty minute car drive away and they are like a small corner shop and a petrol station. It’s about an hour Stockholm, though there are other towns and big shopping places in-between.
Of course, Hugo’s summer house as a TV, DVD player, internet etc but Oscar normally wants to watch something or be on the computer at the same time I do and since he’s a spoilt brat he always gets his own way. Oscar is eleven and mum baby’s him far too much whilst Hugo is too busy to really care.
So, that’s why I spend most of my time outside.
Recently, I found the perfect spot to hide in for awhile. Following the road away from the cluster of houses that make up the neighborhood by the lake shore, through a farmer’s field that has a footpath at the edge and into a wooden area which has a smaller clearing where lots of wild fruit, vegetables and herbs seem to be growing.
There I can sit on the grass in the shade of the trees or the full sunshine if I move further out. I can read books, write in my diary, do school work, daydream and anything else I fancy doing. It’s become like my sanctuary away from the world. I’m happy there and don’t feel sad about my past and issues.
Currently, I noticed that wild strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are growing in the clearing. I’ve been watching them and wondering when they best time to eat them will be.
That’s how Hugo came to know about my special place. I asked him one day over breakfast. Oscar was stuffing his face full of pancakes which I’m sure he was addicted too, mum was busy making him some more and Hugo was reading a newspaper whilst I was picking at the cereal in my bowl.
‘Hugo?’ I asked.
He hummed to show he was listening.
‘Can you eat the wild berries around here?’
‘Sure,’ he replied, ‘as long as they are wild and not in a farmer’s field. Wild berry picking is something my parents always enjoyed doing. Bit of a tradition in Sweden.’
‘How do you know when berries are ready?’ I asked.
‘Their colour changes and they don’t taste tangy or sour. I guess it depends what the berry actually is.’
Hugo folded the newspaper and give me his full attention which I didn’t like.
‘Strawberries?’ I shrugged and tried to act like it had just come to my head.
‘When they are all red and have no green left on them,’ Hugo answered.
‘Okay, what about blueberries?’
‘When they are a sort of dark purple.’
‘And raspberries and blackberries?’
‘When they are red and black,’ Hugo said and he give a small laugh, ‘where have you found all these berries? Maybe we can pick them together?’
I debated telling him then reasoned he probably knew about the place anyway, ‘in a clearing in the patch woods, passed the first field opposite the road that turns down to here.’
‘Oh, that clearing! The fruits are good from there,’ Hugo spoke.
I nodded and took a few sips of orange juice.
‘Why do you care anyway?’ Oscar snapped, bulling his way into the conversation.
Mum put two more pancakes on Oscar’s plate – his seventh and eighth- then sat down to finally eat something herself.
‘None of your business,’ I muttered.
‘Tell me!’ Oscar shouted, ‘mamma make her tell!’ he banged his fork on the table.
‘I found some all right and I wanted to know when I could eat them,’ I explained angrily, ‘you don’t like fruit and veg anyway, so there!’
‘I do like fruit and veg!’ Oscar yelled, ‘show me where they are! Mamma make her show me! I want some!’ and he began kicking his legs about under the table.
I moved so he wouldn’t hit me and abandoned my breakfast at the same time.
‘Oscar stop that,’ Hugo said.
‘Stop kicking, darling,’ mum added, ‘today we are going into Norrtälje to do some shopping and visit your dad’s cousins. We can get you some berries there if you like.’
I got up to leave, thinking of grabbing my things and heading out to the clearing.
‘Lacy, you’re coming to. You agreed last night,’ Mum said.
I turned ready to argue, teenage mode on and angry flaring in me. I opened my mouth to say no but both mum and Hugo had stern, no arguments please faces on and I knew there was no point. The last thing I wanted was to turn into a second Oscar and at least in Norrtälje I could go shopping.
To Be Continued…