Monday, August 10, 2009
I am married to the kind of woman who finds particular delight in nature; it is berry-picking time and somewhere deep in her sense of seasonal rhythm is this critical moment when fruit ripens on the vine or bush, waiting for someone to notice. She does. Every year.
Frankly, this intuitive awareness is not something I share. I would have a hard time telling you which month it is when strawberries are expected to appear at the roadside stand; without Wikipedia handy I can only shrug. You would think I would know; our Southern California strawberries are the world’s best. Every year we buy a bunch. Apparently, I do not file these sorts of things very well into the database of my own memory. As many times as I may hear the particulars repeated, I still have trouble calling up due dates and birthdates and birth years. But Carolyn does, with ease. Her response time to these questions is nearly instantaneous. It’s remarkable. She not only remembers the precise date, but generally she’ll call up some interesting incident associated with it that I’ve long forgotten.
It is one of the many reasons I am lost without her.
When Carolyn suggests we go for a walk, I am not as inclined as she is to embrace the joy that it will bring, even though it always does. This is another thing she knows by instinct. But I can be thickheaded on the point. The thought of leaving some task or whatever sedentary obligation stands in the way – either one becomes a barrier I must overcome (sometimes by her coaxing).
Usually though, she seems fine if I turn down the offer. I decline. She prepares to leave without me. There is no evident sense of loss. She fixes the iPod buds into her ears. I am the one who sits there with the sense of loss. Just in time, I’ll put aside whatever it was I thought was more important, and get myself ready to go. She seems to know that’s the way it works with me.
I tend to explain all of this as Mars versus Venus. There are, I’m told, distinct male and female ways of processing information. But then again, it may simply be the onset of dementia. Time will tell.
In a remote, open dry lakebed in the next town over, there grows a colossal wild blackberry patch. We are regulars over there, especially this time of year when blackberries ripen. Carolyn suggested we all go over there this weekend. I declined as usual. As everyone got ready to go without me, I changed my mind.
Our four-year-old grandson and his parents came along, with two-week-old Quinn tucked into a snuggly on her daddy’s chest. All of us carried a chromed bowl from the kitchen, and we found a spot where black, ripe berries waited and we started to pick. It wasn’t long before Emerson got caught in the thorns in the thicket and scratched his little ankle. “Picking berries isn’t easy,” grandma explained. “These are battle wounds,” I offered, and then I showed him mine. Blackberry bushes are nasty. You’ve got to learn to navigate around the prickles, Grandma added.
Emerson seemed to get it. And not long afterwards, we were all laughing again and the conversation got good. There was an occasional, “Ouch!” I don’t know if it was the warm sunshine or the sticky blackberry juice dripping off our fingers or the sweet scent in the air or maybe the dangers of thorns surrounding us on all sides but it all came together, just like Carolyn knew it would. We stayed and picked for a long time. Riders on horseback greeted us from above.
“Look at mine, Grandpa!” Emerson said as he held his bowl full of berries up for me to see. “Wow!” I said, like any Grandpa would.
Soon the metal bowls were filled up and we headed back to the car, and off to the kitchen where Grandma had made a thick, crumb pie shell with butter. She whipped up a blackberry glaze, washed the new, fresh berries in cold, clear water and put together a pie several inches thick.
Emerson watched every move in amazement. He seemed to make the connection, between the thorny berry patch and Grandma’s kitchen. It filled him with the wonder little boys know when discovery breaks through.
If it was up to me, we would have jumped in the car for the asphalt parking lot at the air conditioned Fresh n’ Easy and picked up a couple cartons of blackberries out of the cooler and passed them over the bar code reader at the self-check out and run my debit card through the slot. Ten minutes flat. Round trip. No sweat. If not Fresh n’ Easy, then over to Marie Callender’s instead for the finished product; in a cardboard box and disposable tin.
But thankfully, it wasn’t up to me.
As we nursed Emerson’s scratch out there on by the shade tree where no one bothers to trim the wild thick bush, and poured some of our cool bottled water over the wound, Grandma said, “The pie tastes better when you pick the berries yourself.”
Through his tears, Emerson nodded, doing his best to agree with his grandmother.
But that night, after dinner, with a dollop of vanilla ice cream on a big old slab of fresh blackberry pie, it turns out that Grandma was right.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp, 2009