Opinion: Remembering picking berries


We ate the last of the raspberries on some ice cream the other night. There were a lot of them this year, but they were smaller than usual. Possibly because we’ve had so much rain and so little sunshine.

The man who built the house around 1960 planted them along with a Concord grape arbor. They were probably in neat and tidy rows back then, but I didn’t discover either of them for several years after we moved in. By then both had grown straggly and wild.

The grapes have long since disappeared except for the feral vine, which winds along the fence and into the trees. The raspberries are scattered in among fencerow shrubs that I neither planted nor can identify.

We went berry picking when I was a kid, too. Blackberries mostly, in wild patches deep in the woods of southern Missouri. Dad was a forester, and after a week of combing the forgotten woodlands he would come home with the pronouncement that “come Sunday, we’re going to pick blackberries.”

This meant he had found a lush berry patch so deeply embedded in the wilderness.

After a few miles on the county highway, Dad swung the car onto a gravel road and then into the ruts of an overgrown farm lane. Then he literally plunged into the woods, following an ancient logging road that only he could see.

There were always fallen logs and boulders to crawl over, a creek to cross and at least one mosquito-infested bog to wade through to get to the berries. By the time we got to the berry patch we were soaked with sweat, bruised, bitten and miserable.

The berries were huge, juicy and plentiful. We filled our buckets to overflowing, and then painfully crawled back through the wilderness to the car. By the time we got home we were exhausted, and eaten by chiggers and mosquitoes.

After we kids had gone to bed, Mom and Dad dumped the berries into a huge kettle, cooked them into a thick slurry, poured them into pint jars, covered them with molten wax and tucked them away in the cellar.

By the time winter rolled around, and I sat at the breakfast table, spreading a piece of hot toast with homemade blackberry jam, I had almost forgotten the misery of picking blackberries.