Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Berry Pickin' time in the foothills

We are blessed to have a prolific raspberry patch about ten feet from our back door. Mixed in with the raspberries are quite a few "thornless" blackberries. I had thought these to be the same wild blackberries that are a noxious (though edible and delightful) weed in this area, but a friend who was visiting a week or so ago pointed out that mine do not have thorns, and therefore are not identical to their wild and reckless cousins which reach out to scratch across arms and wrists and knuckles with great abandon.

In the front yard, I have a line of "black raspberries" which resemble little thimbles to me when they twist easily from their core and are best when eaten in a bowl of cold milk and cereal. I like these tiny, tasty treasures better than the red raspberries (for cereal) and I think it is the sweet flavor of the cereal juxtaposed against the tartness of the little, black berries.

The berry patch in back gives forth its fruit by big bowl-fulls every night. The little black raspberries produce only half a cereal bowl-full every few nights.

I used to pick blueberries with my Dad, so berry pickin' always brings back fond memories of our time together in the rural backroads of New Hampshire. I'm sure that, as a gangly, skinny kid and as a busy teenager, I took my time with Dad for granted and did not deeply appreciate those special moments where a lot more than berry-pickin' was taking place.

Stories were being told, tales of Dad growin' up out on a farm. Ghost stories and funny experiences were interrupted by the appreciative "mmmmm's" and "that was a good one!" that burst from our blue mouths and blue teeth.

We had a tall blueberry bush out in the back field, that stood at least 8 ft. tall. It was thick from a multitude of stalks that grew up from the roots and one had to carefully reach way over the top branches to snag the perfect, delectable morsel of nature's fruit. We always had old lard cans which featured a bail, or swinging handle, over the top, and no one who has spent any time at all pickin' blueberries can forget the "ding" you'd hear when you first started dropping the berries into the can. Raspberries are much too soft to make a sound, and you treat raspberries differently than blueberries, anyway. They are tender and fragile and must be lifted using the lightest of touches from the bush to the bowl or can and placed, almost with reverence and love, into the group of delicious, juicy bits that have already made the sacrificial journey from bush to bowl.

I remember the stories and the telling, but not the exact day the stories were told. I just grew up with them, and probably heard the same one over and over. Maybe my Dad was like Jim, our old horseshoer years ago, who loved to tell jokes he'd garnered while traveling all over the county shoeing horses. Once, I remember he launched into a humorous tale, and I told him with a smile, "Jim, you told me that one already!"

And Jim replied, "That's okay. It's a good story and I want to hear it again too!"

I thought blueberries and Dads would last forever. My Dad made his trip to the other side in 1996, but just a few months before he died, he made an offhand comment that I never forgot.

He said, "There's not a day goes by that I don't think about my father."

He was 80 years old when he made that observation, and his father had died of a cerebral hemorrhage while he was out in the NH woods cutting firewood at least 40 years earlier.

It's been 14 years since I've seen Dad, and I know exactly what he meant. I'm guessing anyone reading this who has lost a dear Dad or Mom knows what he meant, too.

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