Whenever I look back on those years known by my parents as: ‘the good ole’ days’, I realize how special they truly were. Today, they are the valuable memories I am sharing. Going berry picking was my Mom’s way of spending ‘one on one’ time with me, but I didn’t get that when I was a kid. Living on the prairie as we did, picking berries was a pre-requisite of life in the country. Every kid I knew, myself included, hated those dreaded words we heard, almost every day throughout the summer:
“Come on, Lane. Let’s go berry picking.”
I think my Mom went to sleep every night with a plan in mind for her next picking spot. I had learned there was a methodical way for these expeditions. We never hit the same spot every time. We moved around in order to keep a certain amount of fruit ripening for the next picking appointment. This way it seemed to me, there was an endless bounty available and the picking sessions would go on until the snow fell! One way or another, there was no escape from that dreadful chore, because even when we weren’t trampling through the woods, we were in the orchard picking every ripe strawberry, plum, or various apple off our many trees. At least picking fruit in the orchard behind our house, I didn’t have to cover up 99% of my body with clothing on a perfectly hot summer day.
I often thought I was a bother, a nuisance to our Mom most of the time. I even resented the fact that she never took time to talk to me or understand the things that mattered to only ‘me’…but she did. Those WERE our special times…those times we picked berries together.
Mom dressed me in Dad’s long sleeved shirts so I wouldn’t get bitten by mosquitoes. I wore my overalls to protect my legs from getting scratched by twigs and scrub bush and Mom tucked my long hair under Dad’s cap so it wouldn’t get caught or tangled in hanging branches. I didn’t want all that hair, I wanted a cute short crop style like Hayley Mills in the Parent Trap. And…I wanted to wear jeans…all the time. I promised myself that when I grew up, I wouldn’t EVER own a dress! Well, those who know me today and all through my ‘grown up’ years, will laugh at that one!
We’d leave the bright sunshine and burning heat behind, and walk together down one of many shady trails through the woods to the north of our farm. Even Shep, our Border collie, didn’t escape these berry picking hours. He wouldn’t have stayed behind anyways, but somehow I envied him because I believed he did have a choice. Poor deprived little ‘Skinny Bones’, me, I had all these terrible chores to do in a day.
Every so often, Mom would bang the stick she carried against a tree! Shep’s ears would perk. He was our protector, from what, I never asked or wanted to know. “For noise,” Mom said calmly, then we walked on. I didn’t want to think about what we might step on, or disturb from their cool afternoon slumber. And why did she insist on making noise if something (I visualized a Shreck-like troll) was peacefully asleep? Beyond me! But we had this routine for years, generations, and nothing ever came after us….So I guess her theory worked.
Midway through picking, we stopped for a picnic lunch. Mom had her thermos of tea or coffee and a cool jar of Kool Aid or Freshie for me. We’d sit on the huge white stone by the clearing to the field, share sandwiches, buns and cookies and we’d talk.
Yes, we talked together. About anything and everything I could think of to ask her. Sometimes I brought my little notepads and I wrote in it, my version of an interview. I loved to get her talking about her own childhood. Her first dance when she met our Dad etc. I never tired of hearing how they met. Her eyes got sparkly and she talked shyly with a smile that shed years away from her face as she shared a few little secrets.
Other times we discussed school and what I wanted to be when I grew up and the hopes she had for helping me make my dreams come true. She let me complain about the mean kids and she let me get all the frustrated feelings I had towards them out of my system & it made me feel better for awhile.
Old Shep got the leftovers of our lunch, then we stopped by the little brook & he had a long cool drink. Then we’d pick again for awhile. As soon as her built in timer went off, she’d say it was time to head home. Dad would be putting the kettle on for afternoon tea. Shep knew the word ‘home’, and without so much as a nudge, he’d turn around and head in that very direction, faithfully leading us back.
I remember the brightness as we left the woods and the feeling of the hot sun on my face again. Dad would meet us, take our pails, while I peeled out of the shirt and long pants, glad to be in my shorts and tee top. Mom hung them up in the porch for next time while Dad estimated how many pies Mom would make. After tea, my latest notes written for memory’s sake, I went off to see what had happened to barn cat & her kittens, or the new calves or piglets while I was gone.
“Let’s go berry picking,” I’d hear Mom say.
Right in the middle of my time for play!
“Put on shoes and Dad’s long sleeved shirt.
Cover your legs, so the twigs won’t hurt.”
We took Old Shep from his lazy nap
Pinned up my hair, under Dad’s cap.
Mom led the way to her favorite spot.
Stopped for a snack, when we got too hot.
I’d look around wishing it would rain
But it seldom did, so, we’d pick again.
Though I complained to go home and play…
Wish I could walk with her…today.
Now I would tell her, how much it meant,
Those chats we had…the time we spent.
At last Mom checked her pail and mine.
Told me with a nod, we’d done just fine.
“We’ve picked nice berries, between us two.
Your Dad will be very proud of you.
Now you have plenty of time for play.
Come on, Old Shep! Lead the way!”
He gladly led us on the path going back
Wagging his tail. Sniffing his track.
At last we come out, into the day’s hot sun.
I see the house! I start to run!
Mom says: “Careful with your berry pail!”
I hand it to her and dash down the trail!
Old Shep starts to run farther ahead.
Anxious now, for his shady bed.
Dad gives a wave. He knows we’re done.
I whip off my long shirt, in the afternoon sun.
At suppertime, something sure smells great!
Strawberry pie! I can’t wait!
Picking berries was NOT that bad…
When I think back on those times…Mom & I had.
I’d wear long sleeves…Carry a pail,
If only we could walk…Down that memory trail.
Tuck up my long hair and not complain…
If I could be there…with Mom…again.
For Mom always. You are the wind beneath my wings.
From Summer Wind