Growing up in the rural South may seem to some as a precursor hindrance to personal growth. I am not entirely in disagreement with this thinking, given the deep-seeded prejudices in and about the Southern psyche. I have had to grow beyond some of the skewed thinking that had entangled itself like kudzu into my fledgling worldview, but I also have had to realize all that permeated my forming sentience was not always restrictive or confining. Some experiences were absolutely beautiful happenstances of being a child of the South, thinking simply and enjoying each day for itself and the discoveries therein.
As the Summer season begins and the Sun turns its powerful and wilting gaze upon the Earth, the sights, sounds and scents of the present trigger some backward (in its purest and loveliest form)personal remembrances: The smell of pure tomato essence on a hot day when removing the "suckers" from the vines, the glimmering array of dew-drenched grass, revealing the "spiders' eyes" at dawn and dusk, the first glow of a "lightening bug" signaling that cacophony of "katy-dids" about to begin in the canopy under a star-filled Southern sky, much like the dimming of the lights in preparation for an orchestral performance in a concert hall.
Another seasonal treat we enjoyed during Summers past were blackberries. The prickly vined, heat-loving berries that left more than a few stains (and scratches) on my person, clothing and memories. Good stains, the kind that are indelible and remind one of sweltering childhood days well-spent.
There was a particular hill, simply monikered "Blackberry Hill" by us kids, that was the ultimate and endless source of this sweet, inky treasure. The "hill" was actually just piled remnants of soil and refuse timber that had been removed when a gas pipeline was interred, cutting a swath of treeless land through our tiny rural community like a scar of modernity. The hill was there for enough Summers for me to remember it and the fun we had there. It was an absolute tangle of briars and vines, much like the briar-patch described in the Uncle Remus' Br'er Rabbit stories that comprised my youth, along with Garis' Uncle Wiggly adventures as well as Twain's great storied epochs. These works, while sometimes considered controversial in modern times, taught me more about the purity of imagination and sense of community among all creatures, both imagined and real and painfully flawed, than the fire-and-brimstone sermons in the white-clapboard Baptist church nearby. Anyway...
We kids (and as in most of my stories, "we kids" means mostly just my brother and myself, sometimes with a kismet addition of visiting cousins or distant relations, far removed) equipped with hand-me-down bikes and swords of sticks, managed to transcribe two paths that intersected at the peak of this almost two-story hill. Not a task done easily and bearing us with a bevy of scratches, but it greatly increased our access to the sweet dark fruit of our labors of intent. We would gorge ourselves on this heat-sweetened sticky bounty and, when satiated, pick all the ripe ones left to bring home to Mama.
And, what she did with them was plain, simple magic. She'd make cobblers for the most part, as any good Southern woman and mother would do. She was originally from East Texas (on the fringes of what I believe to be the true South) Her cobbler crust is buttery and spongy, like angel cake, soaking up the butter and juices of whatever fruit with which it is baked. I rarely touch a cobbler anywhere otherwise, not reveling in the (sometimes bitter-tasting) pie-like crust I see so much of everywhere else. They're just not like Mama's.
While she busied herself with the makings of a homemaker's day, we'd return to the hill and let our imaginations ink themselves on the recently paved road to our rural enclave. Those berries stained our fingers as we used them to tattoo our names, ideas and fanciful patterns atop the gritty road top. Wild creatures and worlds came to life before our very eyes, of our very own making. Sometimes these images we scrawled with our amatuer hands would last weeks before being blanched by the hot sun and finally scrubbed away by a not-too-infrequent afternoon thunderstorm. I remember getting in trouble with my father for this, something about marking up the road that led to the church didn't set right with him, but I don't like to think about such things.
I like to think about my Mama's magical way with blackberries. The simplest being, upon our return from the heat of the day, welcomed with a glass of milk, iced with frozen blackberries, a touch of vanilla extract and sweetened with a little sugar. A spoon was provided for fishing out the berries and, with each retrieving dive, made the milk a little more bright purple each time. Pure and simple magic that refreshed my parched body, sweetened the sometimes bitterness of life and saved my soul and imagination (and most likely my hide, a time or two) from a father's reproach.