I pelted into the house with one mowing glove tucked under my arm.“Sam, the blackberries are finally ripe!”
Scott laughed. “They going to rot before we can get out there?”
“No… but … come on.” In the five years since we moved to Alabama, I have not once plucked our bushes. They grow out of sight, along a tree line, and I always check at the wrong time. Fruits and vegetables ripen a month earlier in the South than in the Midwest. By the time I remember to look in July, everything except the peach tree has long since withered.
“I want a big bucket.” Sam, at least, understood my urgency.
I promised to keep track this year, but forgot. The kids have been bringing me under-ripe specimens since April, groaning, “Please” to my “Not yet”. Perhaps it was Freudian. Blackberries grow on monster vines whose thorns break me out in hives. Still, when I was confronted with a ripe berry while mowing, I jumped in the air and cheered. The bush was full, brimming with summer. Sam brought a bowl, Scott left his computer, and I apologized to an invisible Caroline. She was off with friends for several more days, and this wouldn’t keep.
We passed the fragrant honeysuckle bush, and rounded the corner. Sam gasped. Then he shouted, “Yay! It’s time!”
I took off my clumsy gloves and let the thorns jab me. Kneeling beside Sam in the Alabama heat, I breathed in my own childhood.
Mom took me berry picking when I was small, on mile-long hikes to the best patches. Blackberries flourish on the forest’s fringes, where sun and shade come in equal proportions, and the existing scrub can host invasive vines. We dressed sparsely in Ohio in July, enduring sunburns and weed scratches for our exposed skin.
I learned to suck honeysuckle blossoms, chew sassafras leaves, and find sweet grass. And Mom filled three-gallon pails to make pies, cobblers, jellies, and jams. I plucked the ripest berries, contributing little to the actual work. “Jessie, don’t eat them all. I need enough to cook with.” But I crammed my mouth full until purple juice dripped down my chin.
Sam was more precise than my childhood self, but no less voracious. He popped them in one by one, pausing occasionally to spit out a dud. “That one was not tasting so good.” There weren’t enough for any baked goods, so I could allow him the joy of devouring. In the end, we half filled our kitchenware and admired our stains.
He and Scott took the bucket inside, and I pushed my swollen knuckles back into their gloves. But then, I saw a last unpicked section. Down by the poisonous pokeberries that I didn’t want Sam to touch hung maybe thirty more ripe beauties. I hated to leave them, so I took off my gloves and eased into the bushes. And I ate those berries. Every single delicious one.
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.