Monday, July 2, 2018

I love living in the South where blackberries and muscadines grow wild. I have fond memories (and some not so fond) of going blackberry picking when I was growing up in rural North Carolina and the wonderful jams and jellies my mama made with them. My nephew (who is about my same age) and I were each given a gallon bucket with instructions not to come back until the buckets were full.
Fresh picked blackberries

The first half of the bucket was pretty easy to fill with all the blackberries on the perimeter of the bushes. But the second half involved maneuvering your hands through the thick thorns without losing too much blood. The tangled briar patches of berries were often overgrown with weeds and were a natural habitat for snakes to hide out. Couple the prickly thorns and the threat of snakes and you can just picture the two of us dipping in and out of those blackberry bushes like we thought they were going to devour us.
Common Garter snake (ick!)

Trying to fill a blackberry bucket in those conditions brings out the worst in you. You start eyeing the other person's bucket with envy, even sneaking a berry or two into your own when they're not looking. Then there was the arguing and the spills and trying to get that elusive fat blackberry just inches away from your reach, a delicate balancing act that sometimes sent you teetering head first into the brambly bush.
Finally, with buckets filled, we were fast friends again, tromping down the path and across the creek, through the pasture with cows that we knew were going to charge us at any moment. What a dangerous mission we had been on! Then we would march into the kitchen holding our buckets up for Mama to see and beam with pride when she pretended surprise that we had picked so many. But the best part was eating leftover breakfast biscuits with the hot jam that came from the jar that was not quite full enough to put a lid on and seal. Mama would shoo us outside along with the flies we attracted with our sweaty bodies and our sticky jam-coated fingers. We would sit under the shade trees reliving our adventures and the stories would become bigger with the telling. The cows in the pasture became bulls, the garter snakes became poisonous vipers.
But the lingering taste of fresh blackberry jam was almost enough to drown out the misery of what naturally came next - chigger bites. Those pesky little creatures also love to hang out in the blackberry bushes and you don't realize you've been bitten by the bug until the incessant itching starts. But when you're ten years old and chasing lightning bugs, June bugs and dragonflies, you hardly notice.
Fresh blackberry jam

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