History repeated itself today. Two sisters came to pick blackberries on the farm. They told stories of picking as little girls and headed to the patches, basket in hand, containers at the ready, arms and legs bare. “Thorns are gonna eat’em alive,” I thought.
As stories go, berries have been picked on this farm since the 20’s. My grandfather bought this acreage just after the war and even though at that time it was a cow farm, and there was no undergrowth in the fields, there must have been berries in the hedgerows. Now that the fields have islands of undergrowth which surround mature trees, (looks like a park now,) the berries are everywhere. Out the back door, off the back porch and within 100 feet I am having breakfast any time of the day-by the handful. This lasts through August and into September. We eat all we can, and put quart bags full in the big freezer. In January, pulling them out is a delightful treat, especially on vanilla ice cream with hot fudge.
I remember years ago, my parents would put an ad in the shopper and offer to share. Anyone with the willingness to brave the thorns could pick all you could eat and fill as many vessels as you could carry. Yes, there were that many berries. One beautiful August afternoon, two elderly sisters came to pick. They were decked out in polyester slacks and blouses, sun visors and sensible shoes. I remember them telling my mother they had picked berries as little girls and were so excited to pick berries together again! They even had their original berry buckets with them. For them, this was a walk down memory lane. As we watched them walk down the lane way chatting like the little girls of yesterday, my brother said, “thorns are gonna to eat’em alive!” As the hours passed, we did begin to worry. With hundreds of acres “out back” and the trails mowed but confusing, who knew where they might end up? Four hours later they did return. The picture in my mind now is as clear as the digital pictures on my computer screen. Smiles from ear to ear and purple smears crisscrossed their cheeks. The neat buns that had previously peaked out from under their hats were now sweaty tendrils of gray tucked behind ears and hanging like lengths of uncorded wool. And how right my brother was, Polyester is not berry picking material. Their once neat and pristine slacks were snagged, and woven in the pulls were lengths of weed and leaves. The sleeves of their blouses were rolled up and bloody trails of berry vine protection were noticeable across their forearms. Seemingly unaware of their appearance, these two ladies reliving days gone by, happily piled berry buckets in the backseat of a just as rumpled vehicle, and with many thanks and backward waves headed home I am sure to freeze and make pies.
We all stood in wonder. But as I pick the same fields and the berry bushes of generations later, I treasure the tussles with berry vines and have perfected the side step and flatten necessary to create a path in the densest of thickets. I have reached into yard-side patches with abandon in my shorts and t-shirt, not a wise choice. I usually wear boots, jeans, a long sleeve-heavy shirt and still I come away with tiny stinging scrapes and scratches; well worth the reach. In the end, I too I have a full stomach, seeds between my teeth and a purplish grin. And, I always have berries in the freezer.
Melani Fuchs lives in Ithaca NY with her husband and two children. She lives on the original farm purchased by her grandfather in the early 1930's. She is a Montessori teacher at the EAC Montessori School of Ithaca where she also teaches primary Physical Education and Brain Gym. She is a musician, an artist, an equestrian and enjoys running her two border collies in agility.