Cumberland Times-News

Betty Van NewKirk - From the Museum

June 26, 2008

Berry-picking brings back many memories


The earliest ones, pale powder blue, grew along the road and lined the paths through the woods. In my mind they are associated with my ancient Uncle Rawle (he must have been over 70!) who shuffled each morning from the farmhouse, cup in hand, to pick the berries for his cereal and Aunt Lydia's. He carefully counted the berries; explaining that it took 64 - or was it 78? - to flavor the breakfast food properly.

We never counted the berries; we picked them by the gallon. We filled our blickies (small pails that had once been cans for peaches or sliced pineapple) and emptied the contents into a bigger bucket so that we could fill them again - and again.

Before the low-blue season ended, the bush huckleberries had ripened on the steep hillside overlooking the abandoned railroad tracks.

Then, late in the summer, Daddy led us to The Little Round Swamp and other choice spots to which his grandfather had introduced him. The bushes grew eight feet high, and berries hung in clumps the size of a man's fist.

All summer long we had berries on our breakfast cereal. There were berry-studded pancakes and muffins for lunch, and we had huckleberry pies for dessert, with Mother's wonderful flaky crust and the rich berry filling that left us - temporarily! with purple-stained teeth and blue lips.

Kneeling on straw to pick strawberries from carefully planted and weeded and tended plants - and having to pay for the privilege of picking! - is not the same as scrambling for fruit on a gravelly hillside, or peaching across a swamp ditch for that biggest berry on the other side.

But the strawberries I picked were sweetened by the memories of other pickings - of the sun, and the sweet smells, the camaraderie, and the slips and spills and narrowly-diverted disasters of years ago. And, yes! - I'm looking forward to berry-picking again next year.

Betty VanNewkirk is the historian for the Frostburg Museum.

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Betty Van NewKirk - From the Museum
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