The drive home from church was short. It was a beautiful day, and they were discussing what they should do with the rest of their afternoon. Out of the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of the blackberry bushes. She slowed the car and looked at the plump black berries shining like jewels in the sun. They decided they would run home, change clothes, and come back.
Back in the sunshine she gently pulled the berries, waiting for them to yield. The bush suddenly sprung back and the berry dropped into her hand. She breathed in the aroma as she dumped the berry into the bucket. She liked to pick berries. Her husband and kids were spread out down the country road. The “baby” running back and forth, occasionally dropping a berry into “her” bucket. It was hers, too. The rule was that once you had put a berry into the bucket you couldn’t eat it until they had been processed into a finished product. Knowing this, the kids spent most of their time eating berries. Very few kid berries made it into her bucket. They stood on the road side and ate black berries until their fingers and teeth were stained.
She liked the solitude of it. She could let her mind wander. Back she went to her childhood. It really wasn’t so long ago, maybe 23 years, but it felt like forever.
As a child she had grown up outside of town. Way outside. She kept herself busy. Running through the woods, swimming in the river, climbing trees, and picking berries. All kinds of berries grew wild on their land. There were huckleberries growing out of the rotting cedar stump near her favorite hide out. There were salmon berries all over the gully. And there were black berries. Acres and acres of black berries. Their land backed up to government land, through which ran high voltage power lines, a service road, and little else unless you counted the occasional mountain lion, and she and her sisters. This is where the black berries grew. Big. Maybe they were supercharged by all the power running over head. Whatever the reason, the berry bushes covered nearly every inch of the land and they were loaded with berries.
Her grandfather had a produce truck. He sat by the road and sold his wares off the back of his truck. Blackberries would fetch a good price. He bought them from the kids by the gallon bucket and sold them to his customers by the pint. They were never rich growing up, but money must have been unusually tight that year because as soon as the berries began to ripen they were sent out to collect them.
She and her sisters would stand and pick with the sun warming their heads. As the day got warmer the sun began to burn her scalp in a straight line right down the middle of her head creating a perfect red meridian between her brown ponytails. They would pick until their fingers were crimson. Invariably they came back in with a few nasty scratches. Each weekend they all went out together- from mid August to mid September- as long as there were berries on the bushes. The berry juice stained her fingers so deeply that even a good washing in the evening couldn’t get them clean.
When her dad would pick with them he carried a plank with him. When they had stripped the front of the bushes, she picking low and he picking high, he would drop the plank into the brambles and direct her to walk up it. Her older sister would walk up behind her and the next sister closer to the ground. Since she was the youngest she was the lightest and the plank wouldn’t sink into the briars.
She dragged her hand out of the bushes and jolted back to the present as she jabbed a thorn into her thumb. She popped her thumb into her mouth and gave the stab a little suck. When had her hands gotten so soft? She laughed a little as she threw a small handful of berries into her mouth. Too late she remembered that she didn’t really like them straight off the bush. As she spat them on the ground she thought that it would all be worth it when she sat down to a hot bowl of blackberry cobbler after dinner.