Blackberries

The old man was dying. 

It had been a good, long life and he was ready to let it go. His wife had been gone these many years, and although he wasn’t particularly religious, he held a vague hope that they would be reunited … somewhere.

“Is there anything I can do for you, dad?” 

His son had already given up too much time from his own family work to see his father through the inevitable. He just wanted to move on so his boy could move on.

“Just remember to pick the blackberries before the birds get ‘em.”

The boy smiled a sad, knowing smile. He knew just what his father meant.

Over the years it had been a running family joke, his dad’s love for the blackberries that grew along the back fence. He would start watching the bushes as summer began and would always impatiently pick one or two far too early.

“Not ripe yet.”

“I could have told you that, William,” his wife would always laugh.

 The rest of the family was as ambivalent about blackberries as most sensible folks are, but they meant something special to the old man.

They reminded him of summer days as a boy, headed out to the woods behind his grandmother’s house with a pot from the kitchen into the thicket where the blackberries grew wild. He and his mother, sisters and grandmother would all work to fill the pots. The kids would eat as many as they kept, of course, fingers and tongues turning purple from their efforts.

Once back home, they’d sprinkle some on their cereal and grandma would put some up in jams. 

The rest she’d make into a magical, thick-crusted cobbler she called ‘Rolly-bolly’. 

All Bisquick and lard and butter, dense and stuffed with blackberries and served covered in whole milk and sugar, this was not Michelin-starred restaurant fare, just worn linoleum and battle-scarred wooden table comfort food. 

The old man remembered the taste of his grandmother’s specialty as the taste of summer and childhood itself.

And yet, in all the years since his grandmother had died, the old man had never tried making Rolly-bolly himself.

Perhaps some memories are best left as just that. 

Memories.

Ah, but the blackberries. 

The bushes along the fence weren’t wild, of course, and the berries were never quite as sweet as the ones he remembered from his childhood – nothing ever is, really – but they were his. And that first taste of a perfectly ripened berry on his tongue could strip the years away, and he was no longer a fading old man, but a shirtless boy in cutoffs under a July sun, arms covered with mosquito bites and scratches from the bushes with blackberries in his pot and as many roads as he could dream of in his head.

He was free then. And soon would be again.

“Remember to pick the blackberries.”

 

 

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