A few weeks ago my grandfather brought a few bushels of strawberries to our house. He has grown them (among other things) for as long as I can remember. As I plucked a fresh berry from the basket, with the first sweet taste my memories kaleidoscope back to my childhood.
First came the strawberries, then blueberries and blackberries. My brother and I, plastic cool whip containers in hand, would follow my grandfather out the basement door, his steady steps leading the way over the hill. Past the peach trees and apple trees down to the garden. There was row upon row of green beans and lima beans, tomatoes, zucchinis, corn stalks taller than I was. Once we reached the berries, my grandfather taught my brother and I which ones could be picked and which should be left for our next trip. The ones that were still slightly green weren't ready and the ones that were a little soft were best eaten straight from the vine.
Picking blueberries was often the same ritual for us. Off we go, containers in hand. The blueberry bushes were tall and my grandfather kept cages around them to keep the deer out. My brother and I would poke our fingers through the little wire squares of the cage, picking biggest blue berries we could. My grandfather would lift the green mesh he kept over the bushes and lift my brother and I up so we could get the berries at the top. Over and over we would pick and eat. One in the bowl, one in our mouth. My grandma would yell at us from the back porch to not eat the berries until they were washed and warned us of blueberry belly aches we almost always suffered from afterwards. When she yelled my grandfather would get a sly smile across his face and wink at us like it was our special secret. "They taste better straight from the bush" he would tell us and we believed he was right.
Now that I've grown up, sometimes when I am at my grandparents house and its berry season, I'll wander down over the hill. The blueberry bushes are still there with wire cages around them and green mesh netting over the tops. The strawberries still grow along the perimeter of the garden. Now my little cousins are the ones with their cool whip containers in hand, not quite tall enough to reach over the blueberry cages and still unsure which berries to pick and which ones to leave for next time. Some things though remain the same. We all eat twice as many as we plunk in the bowls. My grandmother still warns us about unwashed berries. My grandfather just smiles and winks as he pops a berry into his mouth and the rest of us follow suit.