Sunday, June 19, 2011


A friend posted on Facebook about picking apricots with his dad. It reminded me of the hot summer days of my Illinois childhood, when blackberries were in season. My dad would give us each a bucket or basket and load us into the station wagon, and we'd head along the country roads outside of town. We'd find a patch of brambly bushes and pick until our baskets and bellies were full, our fingers purple.

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."

"No. Thanks."

She smiled, but not happily. "This isn't the road anymore."

"Are you saying I'm on private property?"

She nodded.

"Sorry, I didn't realize," I said.

"'s okay."

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.


dive said...

What a beautiful tribute, Petrea. Your Father would have been proud of you.

Bellis said...

Dive's just said what I was going to - it's a lovely way to remember your father on Father's Day. And I really thought the photo was of that lane near DeKalb until I read the tag, and then I recognized the view.

There are wild blackberry bushes in the LA area - have you ever tasted one of those?

Petrea Burchard said...

I think he was proud of me, yes, though he found it hard to express. I knew what he meant, though.

Blackberries are in season here now. I haven't found any wild bushes here, but with all my rambles it's inevitable that I will.

Michael Coppess said...

No blackberries where I grew up. But, we had a peach tree. In summer we would pick the peaches and my dad would make ice cream. Best ice cream I even had.

Wonderful post.

Anonymous said...

how beautiful and heartbreaking

Petrea Burchard said...

Those fruits from childhood are always the best, Michael. The ice cream, too.

Anonymous, thank you. We all get our hearts broken this way, don't we?

Margaret said...

My grandfather grew blackberries, and we would often pick them. THey were full of thorns so what always started out as something fun and exciting always got us grumpy very fast. We would put the berries in bows and top them with milk and maybe a bit of sugar if they were sour. I always liked how the milk turned purple.

altadenahiker said...

Ah, yes.

Speedway said...

A beautiful story, Petrea, You did find the right road. Your father would be proud.

Petrea Burchard said...

I kind of wrote the thorns out of the story. True of many memories of departed loved ones.

Susan Campisi said...

I love how you meandered through this memory. I got choked up with emotion by that last line.

Lori Webster said...

((Petrea)) That was beautiful!

Diana said...

I know it's not DeKalb, but you can pick your own blackberries at Underwood Family Farm in Somis ( I was out there today picking blueberries and I don't think there will really be a lot of blackberries for another few weeks, but still...I'm thinking about going back!

postie said...

My Mother used to drag us to pick blackberries in the summer. A job I didnt like too much. So when I had had enough I would say oh look a snake and that was the end of picking for my mother. LOL

Petrea Burchard said...

Thanks, Susan and Lori.

Diana, I'm thrilled with the Pick Your Own Crop Calendar! That's a great thing, thank you.

Postie, I'm glad I could bring that heartwarming memory back to you.

Latino Heritage said...

Quite touching. Thanks for you sharing.

Ms M said...

Wonderful and moving post. Thank you.

Petrea Burchard said...

My pleasure. Thanks for reading.

Shan said...

Wow Petrea, that was one of the best Father's day posts I've seen. You expressed the scene and mood so perfectly. Now I wanna see the movie! :)

p.s. Thanks for visiting me! I'm trying to carve out more time for blog entries (for memory sake) and visiting my interesting bloggy friends this summer. :)

SueV said...

When I lived in Chicago as a kid, we'd go to my grandparent's farm in Michigan and pick blackberries. I can still see my grandma in the kitchen of the farmhouse, bent down looking in the oven to see if the pie was done.

Petrea Burchard said...

Thank YOU for visiting, Shan. I know how busy you must be.

Hi SueV, welcome. I notice many of us have fruit memories from childhood. I wonder if that's because flavors and aromas stay with us.