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    Blackberry Safari
    by Brenda K. Blakely

    Even at 5 a.m. the July sweltering heat met us as we rose from our pallet beds The smell of bacon wound up the stairs to call us to breakfast. Sitting down at Grammie’s table, already full with early rising family, I ate quickly. It was Safari Day.

    It was her event, still Grammie would not tell us how the “ Safari” had gotten its name. Maybe at her age she couldn’t remember or this plot was designed to spur our imaginations. But right now we were ready for one of Grammie’s adventures.

    Safari experience status was revealed in dress. Novices had on shorts and t-shirts; “mummified looking” veterans dressed to avoid the vicious “redbugs” who would bury themselves under our skin wherever we left it exposed. Beside the back porch door the rest of our arsenal waited.

    Adults manned the hand pump bottle that squirted homemade peppermint oil, protection from the battalions of predator insects waiting to get our blood. For those who didn’t bring their own boots, chances of getting a close-to-your-size pair of boots increased if they got to the boot pile early.

    The boot pile, boots collected from salvage and cleaned and oiled to give another year's service, were always available for anyone headed out to work or walk on the farm. City shoes just wouldn’t hold up.

    I heard Grammie ring the farm bell, grabbed a pail and went over the pasture and down the fence line. Grammie set the pace, overseeing the well-being and safety of those who participated in her Safari, stalking the wild blackberry.

    Under Grammie’s instruction small groups dropped out when she sighted a worthwhile patch. Grammie explained, “The plump ones are full of water; the not-so-plump ones are full of flavor; we need some of both."

    Barehanded pickers reached deep into the tangled, twisted, sticky briars to pluck the wild blackberry from the vine which had nurtured its growth; briars protected the berries from being taken by those not willing to sacrifice skin for the delicacy.

    Then the decision came, into the mouth or into the pail?

    Into the mouth meant a momentary experience nourishing both body and soul. Lumpy, luscious black fruit squished against the roof of our mouths by our tongues, releasing the rich, sweet black juice savored by taste buds waiting for the experience.

    Into the pail meant adding to the corporate collection to be carried back to the house. This option increased the long-term rewards of the wild Blackberry Safari and contributed to the well being of the family all the way through the winter.

    Around the noon hour, Grammie signaled the turn around. Her troops had exhausted both the supply of wild blackberries and their stored energy supply.

    Down the fence line, back through the pasture, some rushed ahead, others talked and lanquished in the moment. All were headed in the same direction but one.

    Our one-in-every-crowd, Diebert, seemed to have a connotation of a WILD Blackberry Safari that was a bit WILDER than the rest of us.

    His red shirt stood out more because he had chosen to wander from the group. We are not sure whether he had sought to attract the bull or the bull just happened to look that way. But whatever, Pappy’s prize bull had decided Diebert was a fair target for his attention.

    Several group members quickly determined that at the bull’s present rate of speed he would burst into the crowd of tired pickers, where Diebert now took refuge, in exactly 10 seconds -- not a long time to decide the best way to put a fence between ourselves and Pappy’s charging bull. The rest of us caught on quickly.

    Some went over, some under, but many carried the scars of this encounter with barbed wire. The same wild blackberry bushes which had just an hour or so ago unwillingly yielded fruit to us were just as stubborn letting us go through to the other side of the fence.

    Some of us may have thought we would carry the mark of the wild blackberry bush and barbed wire for the rest of our lives, but the choice between a raging wild bull or wild blackberry bushes and barbed wire was not a hard one.

    The snorting, stomping bull followed us alongside the fence going back to the house.

    Soap and water buffered with the alcohol, which Grammie claimed burned out all the bad stuff, cleaned off the blood and left us “germ free” from the damage done to our bodies. Clean clothes and a good meal prepared by those who had stayed at home gave a whole new perspective to the afternoon of anticipation and smells wafting on the breeze.

    Biscuits and blackberry jam skimmings would be on the supper table.


    BIO: Brenda is a writer/consultant holding a Masters of Education degree in Christian Education from Columbia International University. Her works include the "Freedom the Price is Paid" project and "Green Pastures and Red Tape" workshop. Additional articles may be accessed at Faith Writers member profile 17783 and in the Faithwriters 500 Magazine online.

    Read another of Brenda's stories here at USADEEPSOUTH.com:
    Medicinal Grease

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