We buy ours in the grocery store. The warehouse-bulk grocery store clear across town to be exact. And that pains me every time I place them in the cart.
But, oh, do my children love blackberries! The sweet ones and tart ones. Juicy ones and dry ones. Black ones and purple ones.
I watch them pop them into their mouths, juice dribbling down their chin. And I am overcome with sadness.
“This is not how blackberries should be eaten by little children” is all I can think as my eyes rest on them sitting at our fancy kitchen table with the air conditioning humming.
Blackberries are meant to be eaten outdoors in the heat of the summer. Early July’s sweaty air, clinging to the flannel shirts and thick pants that shield your body from the snakes in the undergrowth.
Blackberries are meant to be eaten in secret as you hide behind the tall brush, on the lookout for an aunt who will tell your mother that you’re putting more in your mouth than in the bucket.
Blackberries are meant to be eaten in the back of a rusty farm truck. One that will break down as it carries you back to the lake, forcing you, cousins, aunts, uncles – the whole family – to trek back to the campsite with fat berries sustaining us all the way.
Children should eat blackberries so that they will know which ones to pick – which ones are best for popping like candy, which make the best cobblers, and which are best to feed to your baby brother when you want to see him make a pucker-face.
Blackberries should mean something, I think. They should remind you of fireworks and fishing and crickets singing outside the tent. They should be warm and crunchy-soft, served with cheap ice cream from a large plastic tub.
They should make your mouth feel glad that school is out and there are no bedtimes.
My kids think blackberries come from Aisle 7, right next to the vending-machine candy and bulk cans of nuts. And when they ask me to let them try one while we are in the checkout lane, I shudder at the thought. These aren’t even organic! They must be washed and rinsed and washed again before they can grace your lips.
But later, as I’m draining the berries to place on the table, I realize: It’s not my kids I’m sad for. It’s me. They think that store-bought blackberries are delicious and wonderful and sweet. And really, that may be good enough.
But me – I know better. I know what blackberries taste like when they don’t come from a plastic box. I know what blackberries tasted like on my tongue when I was a child.
When I go back to that farm of my youth and search for the prickly plants, I find none to my liking. The berries were so much larger when I was young.
So now I stand on the sun-faded hardwood floors in the kitchen where I’m the grown-up and stare at the basket of wet berries in front of me.
I carefully look for the one berry that has just the right appearance – dull fat buds on the berry, just waiting to explode.
I pop it into my mouth, my eyes closed.
And I instantly go back to my childhood. I see the chips on the picnic table, feel the muddy lake bottom in my toes, smell the bug repellent and pine trees, and hear the crunch of gravel as new faces arrive and the explosion of fireworks across the small pond.
It’s a sweet one, that berry.
“Mommy, I love these blackberries!” I hear my 4-year-old say.
I open my mouth to answer, as juice dribbles down my chin, “Me, too.”