My father would load my sister and me into his ‘52 Chevy truck, and he’d steer down the gravel road leading to the homestead where my mom was raised.
The radio played Loretta Lynn and Faron Young as the wind whipped through the cab. Dad would shift the three-on-the-tree and the 6-cylinder hummed as we headed to our destination.
We were on our way to pick blackberries.
My mother’s parents raised their six children on a homestead in the unincorporated county community of Fomby, Arkansas.
It’s still unincorporated. The only remnants are the people who still call Fomby home, and Hopewell Baptist Church. The one-room school where my mother attended is long gone. A small footprint of the concrete slab of the classroom is all that remains.
Like many rural communities of the early and mid-20th Century, the economy was primarily farming.
People had lots of children, which came in handy since most of the food they ate was grown, raised, hunted, or gathered.
My great grandmother (we called her Mom Pickett) had a small general store she operated for a while on the road that led to my mom’s old home. By the time we were picking berries, the shell of the building that housed the store was all that was standing.
It was along this narrow, dirt and gravel passage that my dad would slow down and tell us kids to start looking.
When one of us spotted a thicket of blackberries growing wild on the side of the road, we’d call out.
Dad would downshift and ease his now dusty Chevy to the edge of the road and come to a stop.
We’d pile out with our bowls, then spread out and begin picking. The smell of honeysuckle was everywhere.
Wild blackberries are a sweet/bitter flavor. They’re smaller than the hybrids you now buy in the store. But to a kid in mid-60s Arkansas, they tasted like candy.
I’d eat almost as many as I picked. Whether I ate them, or they made it into my bowl, picking blackberries came at a price.
Lots of thorns.
We didn’t use gloves. I’m not sure we could have. The sense of touch to tell if a blackberry is ripe enough to pick can only be accomplished with your bare hands.
We wore shorts and T-shirts, or no shirt at all. When done picking, I almost always was covered in scratches on my legs and arms, but especially my hands.
But it was so worth it.
With bowls filled, my dad would tell us to load up. He’d fire up the Chevy and we’d reverse course and drive back, leaving a trail of dust that I’d often turn and watch through the back window.
The radio tubes would eventually warm back up, and Patsy Cline would sing to us through the speaker in the dash. I liked her. I still do.
The joy of this adventure came when we arrived home and showed our momma what we’d brought her. She’d praise us and then comment on how scratched and sunburned we were.
But we didn’t care about the scratches or the sunburns. We knew a blackberry cobbler; jam and jelly were in our future. And they all tasted oh, so good.
Today, my wife grows a large, thornless variety of blackberry. They’re from a cutting her father had that she brought back from his place in Oklahoma.
She successfully planted and raised them at our old house, gave a cutting to our oldest son, who was kind enough to give us a cutting when we moved to our 10-acre homestead where we live now.
Those are the berries we now use for cobblers, jams, and jellies.
But each summer as I brush hog the property, I see patches of thorny, wild blackberries. Just like the ones we picked when I was a kid.
I think of the blackberry excursions and the simple joy they brought. The empty building where my great grandmother sold her wares. My mom’s old homestead. That ‘52 Chevy. And my dad and sister.
This year, I think I’ll pick some of the wild blackberries that grow freely on our place. Give some to my mom. Maybe make something from them.
It won’t be the same as it was when the world turned at a much slower pace. But the scratches will help me remember.