I've seen briars and I've seen rain

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

If you're in a jam for something to do the weekend of June 27 and 28, historic Lynnville is hosting its 8th Annual Blackberry Festival. Kids' rides, a Jolly Carnival, dancing in the streets, and other attractions promise fun for the family.

Let us not forget the festival's showcasing of "The World's Largest Blackberry Pie." Yes, as far as I can ascertain, Uncle Sam has intrepid bureaucrats on the road verifying such achievements in the name of the Bureau of Small Town Bragging Rights Weights and Measures. ("Ow! I got a blackberry seed stuck between my teeth. Hey, Johnson, you know that World's Largest Ball of Dental Floss you're supposed to be verifying…?")

Blackberries are an integral part of the American Experience. During the Great Depression, my grandmother, my mother and her siblings worked long and hard gathering and delivering blackberries -- on foot -- for the princely sum of 20 cents a gallon. They allegedly suggested that President Roosevelt's famous "Four Freedoms" speech should include freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from chiggers.

Ah, if only chiggers were the biggest threat. My mother told of two teens who lived in her neighborhood in the early '40s. When a Jersey bull took umbrage at their blackberry-picking, they scurried up a tree and watched the bull stomp the berries. When my wife went blackberry picking with her late grandfather, he warned her to beware a distinctive cucumber smell. Sure enough, she noticed the aroma and they narrowly avoided an encounter with a rattlesnake.

Her grandfather owed her his life; as a smoker, he wasn't exactly attuned to subtle aromas. In fact, if you're ever in the woods, don't assign a smoker to be "point man." ("Downed electric line? Smells like Marlboro to me. Rabid skunk? Yup, Marlboro again…")

I had my own encounter with danger picking blackberries on the roadside in Possum Trot. I froze in my tracks when I heard an ominous rattling sound in the briars. My life was flashing in front of my eyes -- until a swarm of buzzing June bugs came flying out. They had cost me two years' growth (although, admittedly, I made up for it eating blackberry cobbler).

June bugs aren't as plentiful now, but at least they planted the seed for some progressive current ideas. I understand that the latest cost-cutting measure for American Airlines is to tie a string around the passengers' legs and let them fly around and around in circles.

Thank goodness for the commercial growers and the festival in Lynnville, because the old-fashioned blackberry picking experience is becoming a thing of the past. Subdivisions, highways, strip malls, and "No Trespassing" signs cover much of what used to be prime picking territory.

Perhaps we need to convince a new generation that a blackberry isn't just a handheld electronic device. We'll have to make concessions to get the youngsters into the blackberry patches. We'll need to air condition the patches and change the name of the activity to Grand Theft Bramble. Then we'll subsidize phone minutes for urgent text messages to friends. ("I picked my first berry ... I picked my second berry … Hey, guess what? I picked my third berry. Hey, how come no updates on the dental floss project, dude?")

For more information about the Blackberry Festival, contact Lynnville City Hall at 931-527-3158.