Note: This story is non-erotic.
This summer was a pleasant reminder of my childhood. Although London is over three thousand miles away from the small Southern town in which I grew up over thirty years ago, I was reminded of that different place and time each day as I walked to the nursery to pick up my three year old daughter. It was the plethora of blackberries ripening on the thorny vines that sent me upon the magical journey in time.
I remember it well. I must have been about eleven years old that summer; old enough at last to join my aunt, who was just six years my senior, in the annual pilgrimage in search of the sweetest and tastiest of blackberries. My Nanny, the affectionate term we all used for my great-grandmother, loved jam cake, especially at Christmas. It was a must-have of my childhood; so of course, that meant we must search for, pick and preserve bushels of ripe berries each summer.
Until that fateful day, my entreaties each year to join the fun had been met with words of disappointment. But at long last, I had achieved the much sought after affirmative response. Of course, my mother and Nanny had virtually had to force my aunt to allow my tween self to tag along with her and her entourage of friends. In the end, she had reluctantly agreed.
The best place to find berries was in the woods along the train tracks not far from our small wooden house. It was less than a five minute walk up the tree lined street to a path that would take us deep into the woods. At the top of the hill was what the British would call a roundabout. Of course, we in the South had never heard of such a thing. In this case, it was not about traffic control, but was the result of the unfortunate last resting place of what was reported to be an ancient Indian chief and warrior.
I say reported to be because the limestone slab that had covered the old grave and born the name and story of this fallen hero had long since been broken in some drunken mishap. As a result, if you stood close enough you would be able to see directly into the grave. On this occasion as we passed the raised area that diverted traffic to either side; my aunt, who feared nothing, had dared me to do just that. I was more than a little scared as we approached the graves, but I knew that I must complete this holy grail if I was be accepted by her friends.
As I stood at the edge peering into the open grave that had overgrown with grass and vines, I felt a hand upon my shoulder a moment before my aunt shoved me forward. I staggered but quickly regained my balance in time to avoid falling into the abyss. The laughter of my aunt and her friends filled the already hot, summer morning. I had no other choice than to join them in the mirth; not if I wanted to appear more mature than I felt at that moment. As if I had suddenly passed some ancient, mythical challenge of the gods, my aunt nodded her head and motioned for me and the others to follow her into the deep woods, which, of course, we did without question.
As an adult, I have walked along that same path with my own children. I was shocked to discover that rather than the deep woods I remembered from my childhood it was a mere fifty feet or so from the roadway. But at the time, it had seemed much longer and more sinister. At last, we arrived on the other side; a small clearing along the train tracks upon which Nanny had told me once bore the procession that took Franklin Roosevelt's body back to Washington after he died scandalously accompanied by his mistress on a visit to healing springs.
There were high grasses and thick vines growing along the edge of the tracks. Dotting those vines that were already browning in the heat of a Carolina summer were round, juicy berries of green, red and blue-black. Proudly baring the bucket from home, we headed towards those perilous vines; trying carefully to avoid the sharp thorns as we reached to pluck the ripe fruits.
Admittedly, in my case, more berries made it into my mouth than my bucket. I ate the tart, but sweet berries by the dozens as we silently picked that morning. I was deeply proud of this mild stone of accomplishment; my first berry picking. My silence was, I thought, better than saying something that might give away my immaturity to these wizened old souls that were my aunt's teen friends.
I am not sure how long we stayed in that hidden alcove of treasure that morning, but by the time we trudged the short distance back home I can remember the heavy weight of my half full bucket weighing me down and slowing not only my own progress but the groups as well. Of course, my aunt took the opportunity to point this out to the others at my expense. I was virtually in tears by the time we finally reached the back door and deposited our offering by the tap for washing before taking inside for cooking and jarring.
As I climbed into the large, bear-clawed top that I thought was too old-fashioned when most of my friends enjoyed showers with pulsating nozzles; I was covered in scratches from the thorns I had not managed to avoid. By bed time that night, I was scratching wildly; especially at the expanse of skin around my waist. Another Southern tradition was at work; chiggers.
This summer as my beautiful three year old daughter laughed and picked black berries with the other children in our community garden club; I could not help but smile at those memories. I smiled again as the smell of black berries boiling away on the stove filled our little flat. The only disappointment came as I brought the spoon of warm jam to my lips and I remembered...I don't like black berries that much.