My Grandpa grew raspberries. My Grandma grew rhubarb.
My Grandparents’ house was my second home. I remember how my Grandpa looked when I was a little girl. With his full head of white hair, his button-up dress shirts, his suspenders, his huge hugs smelling of coffee and old spice and periodically of stale cigarettes (he was trying to stop smoking when I was little). He’d save Folger’s coffee cans, punch holes in the sides, and string wire through them as a handle. Those were our berry picking buckets.
He tended his raspberries with such love and care, meticulously and with great skill as he does everything he undertakes. They were lush, huge, towering rows of green. And shining in their shadows were giant jewels of raspberries. I’ve never seen such perfect, enormous raspberries since I grew older and moved away. And they grew older and moved away. Leaving those vines to some other lucky soul. I hope deep in my heart that the new residents care for them like my Grandpa did. Meticulously. With love. With pride.
For you see, these things matter.
I remember how my Grandma looked when I was a little girl. Bent over, weeding her rhubarb plants and gladioli. An apron tied over her dress. All my memories of my Grandma are of her wearing dresses. I know she also wore pants. All I remember are the dresses. Not stuffy, tailored, show-piece dresses a la June Cleaver, but warm, cozy dresses in warm, cosy colors. Dresses designed to be worn in the kitchen while canning and cooking. Dresses to be worn while playing with her many grandkids, or out among the rhubarb.
I remember her hugs, too. Warm, soft hugs smelling of coffee, and carmelized butter on the verge of burning, and flowers. She fed me so many meals over so many years in her soft citrus colored kitchen. Until I grew older and moved away. And they grew older and moved away. And now deep in my heart I wish I could cook for her the way she cooked for me. I send her home-canned jam. But I wish I could box up and send a whole meal full of the good farm-style food she cooked every day for us. And I think of her as I stand my own kitchen, apron tied around my jeans and t-shirt, up to my arms in dirty dishes and jars of preserves and meal after home cooked meal. And I wonder if she knew just how much she was feeding our hearts and souls as well as our bodies. If she knows how much of her kitchen I now find in my own.
For you see, these things matter.
My Grandpa taught me how to hold the raspberry vine with one hand and how to tug gently on the berry with the other hand. He taught me how the ripe ones come right off, practically throwing themselves in the bucket, while the slightly unripe ones cling stubbornly to the vines.
He taught me how to pick blackberries. He’d tie a rope through the handle of the Folger’s coffee can and then around my waist. He’d wear thick leather gloves and bring clippers and he’d cut me a path through the briars so I could reach the biggest, ripest berries. In the sun, with yellow jackets drunkenly gorging themselves on the juice, we’d fill coffee can after coffee can. I’d stuff my belly full of the warm berries. We’d head home stained, scratched, smeared purple, and plunk the cans onto the counter. My Grandma would then take over. Baking blackberry cobblers, canning jam, freezing jars full of the huge purple berries. We’d have blackberries over ice cream, blackberries for breakfast, blackberry smoothies. The whole house would smell of sun-ripened blackberries. Until I grew older and moved away. And they grew older and moved away.
And now deep in my heart I remember them as I try to teach my daughter to pick raspberries with the same care. As I try to explain that if she’d just leave them on the vine a few more days, they’d be perfect. Indescribably perfect.
I remember them as I shovel compost and mulch the beds and prune the vines in the winter. As I watch the new shoots stretching up, up in the spring sun. I remember them when I take my own children berry picking. Helping them around the thorns. Filling their outstretched hands and open mouths. Watching their little faces become a blissful, smudged purple. I remember and I wish deep in my heart for my Grandparents to see their great grandkids stained purple. See the buckets of berries. I wish I could sit them down with bowls of homemade ice cream and fresh berries and watch their faces as they eat.
For you see, these things matter. They matter so much.
Those of you tending a garden. Those of you planting seeds with your kids. Those of you taking them to pick berries. Those of you going out in the woods and fields, teaching your kids to find food, to feel the dirt, the sun, the plants beneath their fingers. Those of you standing in the kitchen chopping, stirring, cooking, feeding. What you do, matters. It matters so much.