June 23, 2010


As the heat of this summer seems worse than normal to me as I think of the days we picked blackberries. The heat today seems much worse than it did when I was growing up. We did not have an air conditioner, so we were not used to coming out of a cool house into the heat of the day. Summer was a great time when you had the things to do we did. Of course we always had work to do. We did work that was what most people think as hard now. Even when I think of chopping a twenty acre field of cotton I don’t see how we did it. The job was left up to two women and two children to get anything done. One of the women in her sixties and the other who’s will had been lost from mental illness. My brother and I were probably the strongest links. We always wanted to do good things for our grandmother. She had saved us. We battled for as long as she lived for her approval.

The work each summer consisted of picking blackberries. The cow pasture behind the house had on hillside covered with wild blackberries. This was a chore usually done early in the morning while it was not so hot. Early in the morning always meant there was still dew on the ground and all over the blackberry bushes. We were to dress from head to toe in anything we could find to protect us from the blackberry biers. Then there was the coal oil that we rubbed around our waist, this was to keep us from getting chiggers. Chiggers are a tiny read bug that would get under your skin and make you itch, like a mosquito bite. It looked like a mosquito bite except there was a tee-tiny red spec in the center of the whelp. The red spec was the chigger/a bug. Yuk, a bug dug under the skin. The coal oil must have worked for me, because I really don’t remember getting chiggers.

Grandmother always insisted on me and Mama wearing a bonnet. She even knew about the dangers of sun, before everyone else. She could make a bonnet complete with stiff broad brim, gathered back and the perfect string to tie a bow in less than thirty minutes. The brim was doubled, and then tripled to make the fabric thick enough to stand out like the bill of a man’s cap. Behind the brim at the top of your head the bonnet was gathered to poof up and then a piece of fabric was sewn to hang down on the back of your neck. At the front a tie was put on each side under your ears to tie around your neck. Part of the decoration in a home has to be one of my grandmother’s homemade bonnets. When I reached my teens she had a hissy fit that I wanted to work in the fields in shorts and no bonnet. I wanted the suntan, it was the seventies.

Blackberries were always a pain for me. Blackberries are little and it took forever to fill up a bucket. We could not go to the house until we had a water bucket full. A water bucket was the good thing. Picking most everything else we picked meant a five gallon bucket had to be filled over and over. Filling the bucket was easier if you got to the blackberry bushes at the bottom of the hill before anyone else. This meant you got the blackberries that had grown twice as big as the ones on the hillside. The rain water settled in a low wet weather stream by the pond. This pond was the only one we had that had a stream running into and did not go dry in the summer. This was the best place to pick t blackberries.

I loved food so after we moved from up-north. Eating anything that we grew, killed or picked wild was delicious to me. Blackberries I did not like so much. I didn’t like the seeds. The taste was great, so when we had blackberry cobbler I ate the crust and spooned the juice off of the blackberry pie filling. I learned early how to make the best of something, even if I didn’t like it. The blackberries were too hard to get to not eat.
We had battled chiggers, briers, heat, dew and a snake or two to fill that water bucket.

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