Childhood adventures in blackberry picking

Published 9:46 am Saturday, July 28, 2018

Carrie Owens never got a driver’s license, but that was okay.

She drove her tractor to the places she really needed to go, like to Robert’s Grocery in Arabia or up Aaron’s Creek Road to visit neighbors.

In the summer, she would stop by Granny’s house to tell us when the blackberries were ready to be picked. Carrie and Hadley Owens had the best wild blackberry bushes for miles around and she didn’t mind if we picked all she had—as long as we’d leave her a 5-gallon bucket on her porch when we were finished.

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Mom would gather every container she could find and pile at least six or eight of us into her beaten up car to begin the adventure.

Once we parked at Carrie’s house, we walked across the bottom land then up the steep, rugged hill to nearly the top where the bushes were growing. Sometimes we’d form a chain by one holding tightly to a young tree while hoisting the others up ahead, then repeating the process until we were at our destination.

Of course, Mom would always prepare us on how to avoid the copperheads and bear, should we happen across them along the way. Fighting the heat and humidity, we’d push our way through the thorns, scrunching in backwards through the thick vines to get to the biggest, juiciest berries.

Mom would position each of us in a cluster of berries, then caution us to make sure we put more berries in our buckets than in our mouths — a challenge that was always difficult to maneuver. I remember blowing bugs and ants off the berries before popping them in my mouth, my sister Linda assuring me that if I missed any of the insects it would just mean more protein for my health.

Though it felt like hours passed before Mom was satisfied with our bounty, she always rewarded us at the end of our efforts by allowing us to jump in the creek at the bottom of the hill. With sweat streaked faces and dirt lines down our bare legs, we’d let the cool water sooth the fresh scratches on our legs and arms.

The water was too shallow to really swim, but, if you sat on your bottom, the water would rise to your neck, making it all worthwhile.

That evening and, the next day, the house would smell of sweetness as Mom made jam and Granny made cobbler. Mom froze bags of berries for the winter and if there was extra, she’d give us the leftover berries. She’d drive us to Ironton, where we’d sell pint containers of berries as we scratched the chigger bites that riddled our bodies.

When I think of these times now, I only faintly remember the hard work…the heat…and the tiredness after the adventure.

What I remember most is the laughter, the pushes we gave each other to climb the hill and the sweet juiciness of the berries.

If I try real hard I can imagine myself in my isolated cluster of bushes, listening to the corny jokes we’d tell and the tricks we’d pull on each other to make the time enjoyable.

I wonder if Carrie Owens ever knew the gift she gave to our family because of her blackberry bushes?


Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at