I will try to set a scene here. It is the middle of July. The temperatures hit the lower to mid 90’s. Along with a hot sun most of the time and humidity high enough to cause you to be uncomfortable. Yet here you are. Along a fence line or the edge of the woods or a holler. Even though it is hot you are still wearing a long sleeved shirt. I can think of only one thing that would drive a person to suffer like this and that is because there will be a reward for doing so.
For most of you I’m sure you have guessed by now and the rest of you will say to yourself “oh yeah” when you hear. They are out there blackberry or raspberry picking! This fruit is common on most any farm or along overgrown roads. For the most part they are free for the picking. Looking back I feel the word free is being thrown around a little too freely in its use. A blackberry or raspberry has a protective system of barbed needles all over them.(thorns.) To get caught on a barbed needle is painful and yet it is unavoidable.
Over the years I would try to create a smoother way to approach a berry patch and this I was hoping would lead to less scratching. After the berries would go into bloom I would attach the bush hog to the tractor and work my way around the patches and if possible in between them so that I was creating a few paths into the patches. From time to time I would drive by the patches to see how the berries were progressing. When they were ripe I would announce this at the dinner table and maybe Peg, Ben and me and maybe even mom would prepare to harvest this crop.
First we would collect all the empty and clean paint buckets and load them onto the truck. We then would put on our oldest long sleeved shirts and long pants we had and a large container of ice cold drinking water as we might be out there most of the day. Upon arrival we would lay out which part of the patch we were going to pick the berries from or have our mom who would have made a great field general even though she was short in statue she was long in having our respect.
Some years the berries weren’t very abundant so every berry no matter their size really counted. But some seasons the yield was abundant. I know I would be working my way through my area and as the bucket was filling faster than usual I would begin to think of the blackberry pies or jelly that we would get for all this effort. Now when you are picking and your bucket is filling fast you don’t seem to feel the pain from all the scratches your arms were receiving. However on a slender yield season those sharp thorns seemed to be sharper than I had recalled them to be.
When there were three or four of us in a thicket it seemed as though the time and efforts were moving by quickly. However as the years passed and Peg moved away and then Ben moved away and by the way so did my parents. (They moved to Bethel. I guess I wasn’t moving away fast enough for them.) this left me to pick the delicious berries by myself and I can tell you that on a very hot and humid day when you are picking blackberries or raspberries I can tell you this is where the song “One is the Loneliest Number “ might have comee from. I say this because even though I knew mom would make some jelly and a pie or two and even some cobbler I would begin to question just how much did I really want that pie.
I have picked many berries in many places for different reasons. I know one year my cousin Walt and I gathered berries on their farm next to ours. I don’t know why but they had an area in the space of about an acre that was red raspberries. None of the other farms had these that I ever heard of but they had them, I think that back in the great depression the three C men who had worked on their farm planting ever greens might have set these out. The conservation group was to create jobs in the 1930’s for young men who didn’t have jobs. This is only a guess but it sounds good doesn’t it?
The year we picked those red berries we also picked the regular black raspberries and then in their pasture we found lots of dewberries. These are berries that grow in pasture like conditions and close to the ground. Since this was a year of abundance we picked them all. We got them to the barn and where they had quart baskets to put them in and Walt’s dad Tom who worked in a post office in Cincinnati loaded the entire back of his station wagon and once the men he worked with saw them he sold them all within an hour and he gave us what to two twelve year olds looked like a bundle of one dollar bills all the scratches lost their itch because we were rich!
Two things would always happen at the end of the picking season and that was we did of course get rewarded with jellies, cobbler and maybe even a blackberry cake. Also anyone who would see our arms would comment on all those scratches and surely we must be in pain. We of course would never admit that our arms were itching badly besides we were rewarded for each and every scratch we received. One bonus was that we didn’t have to break our backs like we did in strawberry season however one more down side was that berry patches were great places for poison Ivey to grow in and I have always been thankful that I don’t catch that. But berry patches can be a home for a black snake and let me tell you here and now that I am so allergic to snakes that just sitting here at this moment thinking about them has convinced me that I don’t need to go berry picking again this year and maybe even the next.
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. If you are interested in reading more of his stories they can be found in his books ‘There are Places to Remember” and’ Memories ARE from the Heart.” He may be reached at email@example.com.