Friday, August 03, 2018

Picking Berries....

Here I am at the end of berry picking!!
“For a full week, the blackberries would ripen. At first, just one, a glossy purple clot among others, red, green, hard as a knot. You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet like thickened wine …” so wrote Seamus Heaney, the beloved Irish poet.

I heed his words and fill my Jeep up with friends to go blackberry picking. We could buy them at the grocery and ignore the smell of blackberries on the vine and the stained purple hands, but we do not ignore this beauty.

I print the poem and Kathy reads it as we pull out. The day is an Indiana beauty. This day … this moment … is one of the reasons I decided to stay put in this small town and to keep my life centered here. The drive is rural, of course, as we head out to Walters Berry Farm. The ivy-covered barn is the first scene to greet us, and I take a photo just for my own keepsake.

Our berry pickin’ pails vary from Mary’s Tupperware to my red enamel pails used for my own red raspberries. We stumble onto the field and I stand and let the day sink in as the scent of these warm berries fill up my lungs and soul.

My memory serves me well as I begin this summer ritual of picking fruit off the vine. When I was 8 years old, I had a job with my great Aunt Essie to pick her gooseberries. With my 6-year-old sister in one hand and my battered pail in my hand, I headed to the patch. I did not enjoy this job as an 8 year old, but it was one of my first paid jobs so I did it without complaint. For each pail I picked, I was given a nickel.

Picking gooseberries was a dangerous undertaking. The thorns were larger than our small awkward fingers, and, since we did not wear gloves, we always came back with blood, smeared between our stained hands. My great-aunt Essie turned those green and red berries into pies for the church ice cream social. She usually brought most of the pies back home, as it was not always a hit at the social. But, pail after pail, we still were asked to pick the gooseberries. Now I wonder if she really wanted the berries or was it just a way of giving me a stash of nickels, the summer I was 8.
That summer I did other odd jobs and earned enough money for the used bike down the way. By the end of August, my nickel stash was enough to buy the green bike with the pink plastic streamers on the handlebars. My sister, Jessie, and I walked down the dusty road to buy the bike and decided we would ride it back to my Grandpa’s farm. It was then I realized I did not know how to ride a bike, and, with Jessie on the handlebars, we crashed into the first tree. We were both OK, but the bike was not. We pushed that broken bike back to the farm hoping our grandpa could fix it back up, all the while, bemoaning those pails of gooseberries.

I laugh out loud as I remember this story while picking with friends. I just give a wave to them as we pick these delicious, succulent berries. With our pails and Tupperware containers full, we pay for our berries. Luckily, for us we do not get weighed to measure those we consumed while on picking duty.

The scent of berries fill the Jeep as we head back to town … back to chores … back to our regular lives. I ask Kathy to read the poem again as we weave through farmland. She is always a good sport and obliges.

“We trekked and picked until the cans were full, until the tinkling bottom had been covered with green ones, and on top big dark blogs burned like a plate of eyes …” Heaney.

As we pull into town, I exclaim, “Hey, maybe there will be gooseberry or blackberry pie at the ice cream social this week!?” I am referring to the once-a-year event at the Collins School House on Sunday.

I decide I must go and see what pies are presented on Sunday under the tent awning. Ice cream and pie. I will wear my hat with the flowers and sit daintily (kind of) on a folding chair and ask, “So, did you pick the berries yourself?”

LOU ANN HOMAN-SAYLOR lives in Angola at the White Picket Gardens where you can find her gardening or writing late into the night under the light of her frayed scarlet lamp. She is a storyteller, teacher, writer, actress and a collector of front porch stories. She can be contacted at