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July Berry Picking

Recently I cleared out my mom’s shed. There were so many memories in that little building. On a shelf, I discovered the best memory of all. I found two handmade buckets fashioned out of tin cans. Each can had two holes punched near the top and inserted with a sturdy wire handle.

I remember the summer I drove from Indiana to Mom’s home in rural Missouri. Mom made me aware that we would be getting up early the next morning. That time of day was the coolest temperatures for blackberry picking.

After our quick breakfast of toast with sweet jam made from last year’s berries, Mom advised me on what we should wear. She said, “Here is one of my long-sleeved shirts. And wear your jeans with a belt.” I had enough experience with the berry bushes and thorns to know why this was the best attire.

“Why wear a belt?” I said.

Mom said, “You’ll see.” She doused me with a generous amount of bug spray for the biting critters we would encounter.

Then my creative Mom showed me her handmade shiny buckets.

“Why can’t we just use the plastic pails we used last year?” I asked.

Mom said, “You’ll see.”

She drove us to the outskirts of town and turned onto a gravel road behind the state highway department. The single lane ran along the railroad tracks, which was the same location as the berry bushes we visited the previous summer.

Mom said, “Remember picking last year?”

Did I ever! The bushes were thick with the juicy fruit. Each berry was the size of my thumb. I would carefully grab with one hand and hold the plastic pail with the other. Mom and I were constantly picking and transferring them to the pails.

“This year I have a system. My dad made buckets like this when I was growing up,” she said. Mom instructed me on how to loop the handle onto my belt so that the bucket hung in front of me. “Now we can pick with both hands.” When those tins were full, Mom brought along the largest pails for transferring the berries.

We laughed the entire time while grabbing handfuls and listening to the first ripe fruits hit the tin. But also having a taste more than once in a while. We picked in one spot for 20 minutes before moving on to another bush. This was the biggest haul of berries ever. The sweat and smears of juice we cleared off our hands and faces were well worth it.

We froze most of the berries so that we could enjoy them in every season. That evening we enjoyed bowls of warm cobbler with melted vanilla ice cream while sitting on the patio in the cool night air.

For the next two mornings, we repeated our routine. Same outfits, same tin buckets, and a huge haul of berries. Each morning, we heard the train whistle and waved to the workers in the engine and caboose. Even the hot breeze as they sped by felt good. On the last morning, the highway workers in their trucks pulled up to visit. Mom offered them some berries.

The following year, Mom called me with the bad news. The railroad and highway crews had cleared the land along the lane. They had also mowed down the prized berry bushes.

That summer, we settled for a cobbler from the frozen berries. The smell of the baking dessert was the same, but the entire experience had changed for both of us. We rationed out those small frozen packages for the next two years until the harvest was all gone.

Mom passed away seven years ago. Her shed has been cleared out, except for those rusty tin buckets. Perhaps the new owner and her children can create new July memories with those handmade creations.

One comment

  1. You brought the scene alive with your description of berry-picking and the dialogue of a mother and a child. What a pleasant memory you evoked with your words!

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