Sunday, June 19, 2011
My father had grown up poor in western Kansas. He knew where to find wild food, although I think it was less about having been poor than it was about having lived in the country. In summer we sought blackberries. In winter, walnuts.
As we grew older we kids lost interest. My dad got busier. The little forest near campus where we hunted walnuts was torn down and a new building took its place.
I'd forgotten about the blackberries until long after I moved to Los Angeles. I was back in DeKalb for something--a class reunion, maybe--and I drove my rental car out along the country roads south of town on my way to visit my father's grave. Along the way I stopped, and now I can't remember why. It could have been a whim of exploration, I like to do that. I pulled off the main road onto a dirt road.
Something about the bumpy old road was familiar yet not, and I didn't know what drew me until I saw the blackberries. I stopped the car and got out. I was beginning to remember, but it had been so long the memory itself was as scratched as an old photo. The road had once been lined with trees; those were gone, and to one side I looked out over plowed fields. To the other side there was a house that hadn't been there before.
A woman stepped out onto the porch. She was younger than me and her smile was tentative. "Can I help you find something?"
"We used to pick blackberries here when I was a kid."
"Okay, so you're not lost then."
She smiled, but not happily. "This isn't the road anymore."
"Are you saying I'm on private property?"
"Sorry, I didn't realize," I said.
I took a longing look at the blackberries and got into the car. Back on the two-lane blacktop I continued driving to the little hill, miles beyond town, where my father lies buried. His grave looks over a stand of virgin prairie grass.
I don't need to set aside a day to think about my father. I miss him all the time. Around Father's Day, though, it's impossible not to miss him more.