Sometimes situations interrupt what a person has planned. Repercussions are felt in several areas, like a faceted, imperfect jewel. As Chief Editor of Appalachia Bare, I have planned so many things this year, and, hopefully, they will all work out just fine. But a recent event occurred that put a halt to all things. And I hit a brick wall. On May 23rd of this year, my mother passed away. She was seventy-one years old. I had been her caregiver for several years. She was in hospice care for the last few months of her life, so my brother and I stayed with her full time until she passed.
I am no stranger to death around me. In 7 ½ years, for example, I lost my father, my two remaining grandparents, my youngest son, my father-in-law, and, now, my mother. The most devastating thing in this world was losing my son. All the rawness of grief returns when a loved one dies, not just for that person, but for every loss, especially for those where absolutely nothing fills the void. I’m being a bit vulnerable now, mostly because I want to apologize to our readers for the late posts or limited posts without notification or explanation.
So, I have hit my wall and I’m slowly climbing over. Thank you so much for your patience and understanding.
I wanted to share something my mother wrote almost twenty years ago. The narrative is published exactly as she wrote it. She was very close to her grandmother Goins, who, for all intents and purposes, reared her. I have interspersed small photograph galleries along the way. The story is such a treasure and my brother and I are both so grateful that she wrote such a heartfelt piece. I hope you enjoy it.
Introduction by Delonda Anderson
It’s July. It’s when the sun is so hot you feel as if the very earth you walk upon will melt away. It’s when you can smell the dust from the road and the air is still, unmoving at night. It’s when you catch a wisp of honeysuckle in the air. It’s July. It’s when the season for picking blackberries rolls around.
I have picked wild blackberries for as long as I can remember. My grandmother taught me how. Every summer we would watch for the blooms to appear on the vines. After the berries showed up and turned from green to red to black, we knew it was time to assemble our gear and hit the patches.
Everyday my grandmother wore two cotton slips, a pair of pantaloons, a full apron, a small apron over that, a dress that came nearly to her ankles, a pair of thick cotton stockings, a sweater, a pair of sturdy lace-up leather shoes and topped it off with a bonnet. Now even though it was as hot as Hades outside, she felt she needed more garments for protection against the wilds. She then put on a scarf under the bonnet, a long-sleeved jacket over the long-sleeved sweater, a pair of gloves and a pair of rubber boots that were fitted over her shoes. After she assembled her own person, she made my appearance a miniature of herself, except I wore long pants instead of a dress.
Next, we would get our gear together. We took two small buckets, one large bucket, a jug of water, a knife and a big walking stick. My grandmother said the walking stick was in case we ran across any varmits. I often wondered just exactly what we would do if we came across a varmit, stick or no stick.
On the way to pick berries, we were always in a rush as if they would be gone by a certain time. With the dew still on the grass and the hot sun popping over the hills, we would search for the right patch. Sometimes there were open fields where, to me, it seemed like the perfect place. To her that perfect place was one you had to travel a long way to get to and a thicket so dense with undergrowth fifty goats could have eaten there for the rest of their lives. She said the best berries were shade berries and you had to look for them in that kind of place. When I was a child everything my grandmother said or did was gospel to me. So, when we came upon what looked like a snake-infested, tick-infested, poison ivy infested patch of berries, she forged ahead and I trudged right along after her.
Once there, my grandmother was eager to fill our buckets before the noon-day sun came boiling down. I, on the other hand, fiddled around, stared out into space and ate every other berry. At times, we would hold long conversations about anything and everything. She would listen to my problems and advise me, but she never told me what to do or how to act. Even though she was from an earlier era, she was modern minded and knew how to relate to children and adults alike. While she was filling her bucket with berries she would reminisce about her own childhood and how glorious it was to be born in such a great country as ours. She told me about her own grandmother taking her to pick berries and how it was more out of necessity then than it was in my childhood or today.
Once our buckets were filled, we headed back home. We traveled at a slower speed than whence we came. Our work was done for the morning and we could leisurely walk at our own pace. We watched the woodland animals scurrying back and forth on the ground. We checked the beauty of every wildflower we came upon. She knew about every tree and plant in the area and what was good to eat and what was not. She knew what plants cured ailments and what barks, roots and leaves were good for teas.
On the last leg of our journey home, we would stop by a stream and relax. Sometimes we ate a biscuit, drank water and talked. Other times we would take our shoes and socks off and wade in the creek. Oftentimes we sat with our feet dangling in the water watching the minnows nip at our toes.
When we finally made it home and washed the blackberries my grandmother would make a cobbler or save the berry juice for future use in jellies or jams. In the late afternoon with the sun going down we would sit on the porch eating cobbler and mapping out our strategies for the next outing of berry picking. With every bite I ate of that cobbler I had the feeling of satisfaction that I had contributed to the end result of that glorious pie.
Although my grandmother has long since passed away and it has been thirty odd years since I picked blackberries with her, I still pick berries the same way today. I usually go alone now. It is not so much the berries that I am after but moreover it is soothing and gives me a peace of mind. I may fudge a little now and pick in an open field at times instead of the shady overgrown thicket but the effect is still the same. Sometimes when I am out there picking berries and the hot sun is boiling down I can still hear my grandmother’s methodical voice talking and a calmness comes over me.