Thursday, February 9, 2012

Speaking Of Blackberries

Someday I will explain in more detail how 93 year old Fiddlin’ Clyde Harper ended up sitting with Dooley and me around a campfire smoking Swisher Sweet Double Barrel Rum Outlaw cigars on the edge of the river that runs past my property late one summer night ; suffice it say we were there and the conversation had turned to the subject of blackberries. Fiddlin’ Clyde loved to talk about the ’old days’. I guess it was probably because, at age 93, he had so many ‘old days’ to talk about. He had gone on for some time about picking blackberries in his youth. Aside for the economic aspects of berry picking he described a rich and almost forgotten lore that surrounded the event. A family that did not get out and gather the abundance of blackberries for fresh blackberry pies, or for jam, or for canning for cobbler in the winter, and of course for jellies was looked down on as the dregs of mountain society. He told how his parents would dress him “extra heavy” from the knees down to protect him from rattlesnakes and how he had an old pair of socks with five holes cut out in each for his fingers to protect his hands and wrists from the sharp teeth of the vines. He laughed when said he learned to take a piece of string and tie the picking bucket around his neck so he could pick with both hands and get the job done quicker than his brothers. He remembered it was not unusual to see folks walking past his house for days either heading out or coming back from picking.
I mentioned that there were a few small blackberry patches on my land but nothing that would sustain a community. “Course not”, he said. “A patch needs to be picked clean every year to grow. Left to the birds and the rain to clear the vines a patch will shrink to nothin’ in no time.”
“ I wonder why folks don’t pick the patches like they used to?”, I threw out rhetorically, not really expecting to get the amazing answer I did.
“It was poverty what done it.”
Poverty? Here is his explanation recreated as best I could.

“Used to be they weren’t no poverty in these hills. Most everyone had a garden, some chickens and a hog pen. Them that didn’t lived by trapping or shootin’ what they could and eatin’ what greens and roots they found out-a growin’ natural. If’n you had a mule people might think you a little better off cause you could travel ‘round the hills a little more without a wearin down your shoes none,..and you can’t beat a mule for getting’ the heavy work done a might faster. ..but those that had mules were never so much better off that they couldn’t loan the mule to a neighbor if the need arose. People round here didn’t know they were poor till some demoncrats (Democrats)did some cipherin’ and decided we weren’t meetn’ up to standards of the rest of the country. They drew a line on a piece of paper and said, that there is the poverty line and quick as that we were poor. Wasn’t long after they began a givn’ out bank checks and food coupons to folks just for livin’ below the line on that piece of paper. People started usin’ the bank checks and tradin’ their mules to get’em a truck so they could go to town and trade the coupons for store-bought food. Even dogs was eatin’ out of a can. Every once-ta- while they’d be a big truck that come into the County full of what the demoncrats called surplus and hand it out for free. Usually surplus was cheese and cabbage but sometimes it was paint left over from the State Road fixin’ Department . They was-a-time when it seemed like every third house, fence and barn in the County was painted the same yellow color you see draw’d on the hard roads. The demoncrats kept givin’ people stuff for free so the people kept votin’ fer’ im and before long they was demoncrats all over the place. Those demoncrats had programs for all kinds of poverty but the one they was a-most proud of was job learnin’. Thinkin’ was, get folks a-working so the government wouldn’t have to send out banks checks and coupons no more. Twern’t long before all the youngin’s were over in Richwood or down in Charleston in factories making things they used to make for ‘emselves. These things were put In stores and the people used the money they made a-working to buy’em. The demoncrats needed more money to pay for all the ideas they was a-dreamin’up so they put taxes on things and the price of those store bought things went up. A’for long people weren’t buyin’ as much a’cause of them high prices. Then those factories did some of their own cipherin’ and made up their minds they wasn’ t making as much money as they felt they were ’upposed to so they closed them up and sent the youngin’s back home. Bein’ put off from work gave the youngin’s somethin’ the demnoncrats called eligibilities. Now the youngin’s was a-gettin’ bank checks again for not workin’ a’tall. Wasn’t long before before the old hog pen was fulla beer cans and the truck they traded the mule for was rusting in the field where the garden us ‘d to be. Folks lost the will the gumption and the know-how to take care of ‘emselves. That’s why thy tain’t no blackberries anymore.”

*Irene Note: Spell checking was hell on this one.


Angela said...

You know I've often wondered why there aren't that many blackberry bushes around where I live. We do find them though but they are scattered. Surprisingly they are full of berries and it seems like we are the only ones who pick them but it has been years since we've picked enough to do anything with. Mom used to can them and make blackberry cobblers all year round. I've never had enough for that.

That old man is so right about what happened back then. Sad to say but there are people that are still living just like that. Getting things for free for never working a day in their lives!

I'm sure spell check was giving you fits Irene! lol Do you have a blog of your own?

Janet, said...

Hi Roger, thanks for your comment over on my blog. You notice the name of my blog is, Writing in the Blackberry Patch, so I just had to comment on this post. I have many, many memories of picking blackberries with Mom,Aunt Gracie and my grandma. It was a ritual almost like one to get dressed up to go out in the snow. Grandma wore Grandpa's pants over her dress, we wore boots (to keep from gettin' snake bit), long pants and long sleeved shirts. Grandma still came off the hill with blood running down her. I still pick blackberries, but I cheat and have tame ones in my yard, but like Grandma, I don't let any go unpicked. The old man in your post has a lot of wisdom. I have a blackberry cobbler recipe that people are hooked on and I have to make it all the time when we have church dinners.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever made Blackberry Flummery?

Roger said...

Although some people have suggested my blog is mostly flummery I have never tried the blackberry version. Sounds like some fancy New England dish that Thoreau may have enjoyed. I'm more of a possum stew kind-of-guy.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen the similar essay by the late great Jim Comstock? It can be found in his book "The Best of Hillbilly", which I inherited some time ago from my grandfather....