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How to Be a DiNozzo

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Chapter 19 – Strawberries – May 2027

"When are we getting the strawberries, Ima?" LJ was bouncing in his seat in the family minivan as his Abba drove them to the local pick your own farm.

"LJ quit kicking my seat!" Anthony was sitting in the middle row seat directly in front of his little brother.

LJ tried to sit still, "Sorry, Anthony; I'm just too excited to sit still. Abba said that we are going to fill all of the buckets in the back with strawberries. I counted eight buckets, so two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve, fourteen, sixteen… Sixteen gallons, it is gallons, right Abba? That is a lot of strawberries. And we get to eat all of them!"

His sister chimed in, "Two times eight is sixteen; you can do the 'rithmetic that way." Riv and Beth were learning simple multiplication in school. Riv added, "Four times four also makes sixteen."

Almost thirteen-year-old Tali rolled her eyes; her three youngest siblings were constant chatterboxes. She pulled out her ear buds and tuned the twins and LJ out with her music playlist on her phone. She closed her eyes and pretended that she was in her own bubble in the universe; no siblings, no parents.

Tony was lost in memories; strawberries were one of the first ways he connected with Tali eleven years ago. He'd taken her grocery shopping, hoping the little girl would show him things she would eat as they cruised the aisles. "Tutim!" she pointed and yelled out as father and daughter passed display of strawberries. "Tutim!" She had jumped up and down in the seat of the shopping cart.

"Strawberries," he said the name in English. "Tutim; strawberries."

"Taw-bree," Tali tried with the English word. "Tutim; me want." She pointed again to the packages of berries and rubbed her tummy. He nearly burst out laughing at her antics. Oh, she was definitely his child.

"Penny for your thoughts," Ziva put a hand on his arm, bringing him back to the present.

"Just remembering an early trip to the grocery store when Tali was first with me; she wanted tutim," Tony spoke softly. "We connected over food." He intertwined his hand with his wife's and squeezed gently. "Sometimes it's hard to believe it has only been eleven years… other times it seems like it's been a lifetime in those eleven years."

He turned the van into the parking lot for the farm; there were several other vehicles already in the lot. He was glad Ziva had insisted that they go early to pick berries; she reasoned that they would avoid the crowds of the after-1000 group, and that they would have better and more berries to pick in the early hours.

The kids piled out as Ziva obtained three garden wagons from the check-in stand. Tony arranged the two-gallon buckets on the wagons, three per wagon after Ziva bought a ninth bucket to fill. She handed each child and Tony a wooden quart basket to gather the berries as they picked.

"Three teams of DiNozzos," Tony called out. "Ima's team, Tali's team, and my team. The rest of you choose a team."

Anthony quickly moved to stand next to Tali, hoping that the other three would choose one of their parents. LJ and Rivka stood with Ziva and Beth grabbed her Abba's hand. Ziva led the family into the field of strawberry plants. She stopped at a pathway that divided several groups of rows.

"We will spread out over this section; there are no others picking here," she gestured to the rows behind her. "Remember we want to pick berries that are firm, but red. Avoid the ones that are dark red or have soft spots. Also try to not pick ones that have much white, they are not ripe yet."

"Ima, are we allowed to eat any?" LJ tugged at his mother's shirt.

"Yes, you may eat some," she replied to her youngest's grin. "We stop picking when all of the buckets are full."

Tali and Anthony walked to the far end of the group of rows. "We'll leave our wagon at this end and work our way from the other end of the rows. That way we are working towards the buckets and when they are full, we will be close by."

"Works for me," Anthony grinned at his big sister. As the two walked to the far end of the rows, he asked her about fifth grade. "What's it like being the oldest kids in the school? Did you like fifth grade?"

"It was okay; the best part was having different teachers for some of the subjects. I guess it's sort of getting you ready for changing classes in middle school," she replied. "The hardest part was keeping up with when each teacher had assignments due."

"Oh? How did you do that?"

"Ima helped me organize a planner by day. I wrote the assignments on the day they were due as we were assigned them. It was a bit hard to remember to write them in at first, but after a few weeks, it was easier. You have to find a system that works for you, Anthony. Ask Ima to help; she's good at organizing things."

Anthony nodded, "Yep. She keeps the calendar of all of our after-school activities straight. I'm glad she does! She even keeps Abba in line."

The two worked side by side, filling the baskets and in turn, the buckets with strawberries. Sometimes they talked about various topics, sometimes the siblings worked in companionable silence.

Several rows over, Tony and Beth used a similar strategy to Tali and Anthony. Tony filled the quart baskets faster than his number three mini-Ninja, so when he filled a basket, he would trade with her and she took the full basket down to the buckets to empty it.

"Abba, did you pick strawberries when you were little?"

"No, but we used to go to a farm stand to buy fresh berries. My Mom would drive out to her favorite place early on Saturday morning. I think it was called Lewin's Farm. We bought strawberries in June, blueberries in August, and peaches in early September. Sometimes we also bought corn in the summer and potatoes in October. Uncle Angelo got some of his fruit for his pastries from them, too," Tony shared with his daughter.

"That's neat. Was your mother a good cook like Ima?" Beth sometimes wished she could have met her grandmothers. "Ima says Savta was a good cook."

"Your Grandma DiNozzo cooked some things, but mostly we had a cook make our meals. I don't remember if she had a favorite dish to make though," he got quiet as he reminisced. His mom had not cooked that he remembered since he was about six and she started with the sickness.

"I love you, Abba," Beth wrapped her arms around her father's neck bringing him back to the present. "Thank you for sharing about my Grandma; Ima says it's hard for you sometimes."

"Yeah, yaldati, it is hard sometimes, but sharing happy memories with you and your sisters and brothers is a good thing. I'm glad you like hearing stories about her," he hugged his youngest daughter. "Toda, ani ohev otcha."

He handed her a full basket of strawberries, "Now, let's get our buckets full before the other teams!" Their matching grins sealed the pact; the team of father and daughter would do their best to get their buckets filled first.

"Ima, why did you leave this strawberry?" LJ pointed to a dark red berry on the plant. 'Is it okay if I eat it?"

"Yes, you may eat that one. It is too ripe for us to take home. By the time we get home this afternoon, it would be soft," Ziva explained. "Remember that we are going to have to do a lot of work with the berries once we get home."

"What kind of work, Ima?" Rivka looked up from the plant where she was currently picking the ripe and almost ripe berries.

Ziva stood up to move the next group of plants, "We will have to remove the hulls, sort the berries into groups to eat now, groups to freeze for later, and groups to make jam. If we get enough large berries, we can also make chocolate-covered treats."

"Yum… I like when we have the berries dipped in chocolate," Rivka grinned at her Ima. "They are so good."

"Yes; that is one of my favorite ways to have a special treat with the strawberries. I also promised Abba that we would have strawberry shortcake for dessert tomorrow when we have the family dinner," Ziva handed LJ a full basket of berries to take to their wagon of buckets. She watched the boy run down the row of plants. If only she could bottle that energy…

LJ ran back with the emptied basket, "We all have to get our strawberry shortcake before Uncle Tim! Abba says that Uncle Tim will eat whatever is left because it's one of his favorites."

"Do not worry motek. I always make extra for Uncle Tim," Ziva assured her son. "We will all have plenty to eat."

"Okay, Ima. Are we going to fill our buckets before the others? We have three and they both only have two people picking berries on their teams," the boy commented. "I looked and Beth and Abba have more in their buckets than we do."

Ziva tickled his belly, "Maybe because more are going in your tummy?"

Almost two and one half hours later, the buckets were all finally full of berries. Ziva handed out water bottles to the family as Tony paid for the eighteen gallons of strawberries. Back at home, the seven DiNozzos worked together to hull and prepare the berries for freezing, for the strawberry shortcake for the next day's dessert, and to have for dessert with ice cream that night.

"That was fun, Ima," Anthony remarked at dinner. "It was a lot of work, but we all helped."

"Yeah," Riv added, "Let's do it again next year!"

"I second that," Beth agreed with her twin.

LJ grinned at his family, "Let's make more DiNozzo family strawberry memories!"