Stories Of The South: In Search Of Blackberries
This was no ordinary Saturday.
My 10-year-old son, Wil, and I drove to an old peach orchard that had long since succumbed to wild nature, thick now with sweet gums sumac, broom sedge, and of course, blackberries.
“Wow, this sure is overgrown,” Wil said in a concerned voice as we turned down the barley visible road that hugged the edge of the orchard. “Keep your eyes peeled,” I urged as we crept along, looking for the first sign of those black dots of ripe berries.
“There they are!” he shouted as he grabbed for the door handle. Less than 10 feet off the road grew hundreds of perfectly ripened blackberries just waiting to be picked. “Put your cap on," I warned as he made for the bushes. I collected my empty pitcher and followed him into the thorny maze.
As I waded in, fond childhood memories flooded my mind. I recalled the time that my dad had carefully directed me around the old well site to collect a cache of berries. As we got back in the car for the trip home, my father noticed me fiddling with a long blade of grass. “Be careful with that weed,” he told me. “Why?” I asked. “Because if you rub it the wrong way, it will cut you,” he instructed. In my infinite child wisdom, I just knew a little ol’ weed could never hurt me. I then proceeded to slice my thumb and index finger wide open. After that, I listened more intently to the wisdom my father attempted to impart. I remember asking my dad why more people didn’t pick blackberries. “Because they’re afraid of snakes and red bugs,” he told me. “Well, I’m not afraid of snakes,” I replied, “and I’ve got on insect repellent.”
Several large stickers impaled my arm, snapping me back to reality. I filled my pitcher almost to the top, but lost track of my son in the process. “Wil?” I called toward the truck. “Yeah, “he replied from the distance. “How’s it going?” I asked. “Great—I’ve got a half a pitcher full,” he answered. “Let’s meet back at the truck and cool off,” I shouted. After hearing “okay,” I walked through the briars, filling the rest of my pitcher en route.
Wil, holding this half-full pitcher of blackberries, met me. “Tongue check!” I yelled. With a mischievous look in his eyes, he stuck out his tongue. It looked like he had been drinking India ink. “I knew it!” I joked. “You ate more than you put in your pitcher.”
I set the truck into gear and continued around the orchard. A few minutes later, we spotted another bunch. We had hit the mother lode. These berries were so ripe that those on the end of the bush would fall off with the slightest shake. I just held my pitcher under each stalk, gently tugged the berries free, and let them drop into the container.
The pitchers filled quickly, and we soon had enough for several big cobblers. “I’m getting hungry,” Wil said as he warily snuck another blackberry into his mouth.
After a picnic lunch on the way home, my thoughts turned to the first bite of cobbler that night. It would be the perfect combination of steaming tart blackberries, golden brown curst, vanilla ice cream, and sweet juice. Wil turned to me and, with a puzzled look on his face, asked, “Dad, why don’t more people pick blackberries?” I grinned and said, “Probably because they’re afraid of snakes and red bugs.”