Some folks don't like them because of their thorny vines or tiny seeds, but like almost every fruit that grows wild, I have a soft spot for the humble little blackberry. I, love the blackberry's first cousin, the raspberry, too, but I've never troubled myself to find out why raspberries steadfastly refuse to cross the fall line of the Cape Fear.
But blackberries are everywhere, it seems. Right now there are blooms all over the bushes I've been watching, along with a few dull green immature fruits, but soon those tiny succulents shaped like a bundle of grapes will glow blue-black in the hot June sun, inviting anyone willing to fight the thorns a taste of their sweetness.
I wish I could remember the name of the grandma-lady I knew years ago who "put up" blackberries by the gallon, or so it seemed. During the season her parchment-thin wrist would be scratched and snagged from ten-thousand tiny thorns; her cane (carried more for her children's mental well-being than from her own need) was useful for reaching the tendrils that grew too deep inside the patch.
Those always have the biggest and best fruit, bobbing and nodding in mockery of those who aren't brave enough to enter the thorny realm to gather their reward.
One summer, when Mother was in the hospital, the aforementioned anonymous berry-gathering grandma brought by a couple of jars of her own blackberry jam.
Like several ladies in the area, she was worried Papa, Brother Mike and myself would starve without Mother in the kitchen.
She explained in detail to me how the preserves could be used on toast or biscuits, and admonished me to be sure some was left for Mother when she came home.
She then left to go pick some more blackberries.
A few days later, I wanted to go see Mother at the hospital.
The hospital was several miles away, out on the edge of town. That same hospital has long since been swallowed by the encroaching borders of not one but two towns, but that's a column for another time.
It was a hot day, and a long way from home (in my nine-year-old eyes) but no one had specifically told me to stay home. School had been out for two weeks, and I was bored.
So I slung a canteen over my shoulder, laced up my shoes tightly, and started walking.
I could have walked down the shoulder of McKay Street, then turned across the cemetery, and skirted the fence marked NO TRESPASSING, its signs supposedly guarding a pond with a pet fish of mammoth proportions.
Instead, I wandered along the creek that bisected our neighborhood, cutting a diagonal snake's path of green across yards, gardens, and through the woods behind the cemetery. I had to cross more streets that way, but they were all sleepy neighborhood streets that rarely saw more than one or two cars per day.
The creek was never a particularly deep thing (except during a big storm, when it was more of a small river) but there were a few spots that could hide some fugitive bullhead catfish and bream.
All along the way, blackberry brambles hid rabbits and birds; the fruit hung heavy and barely ripe. Naturally I couldn't resist the temptation, started snagging a handful here, and a handful there, eating them pits and all as I made my way to see my mother.
If a kid had to walk a long way to see his sick mother, there were few better places for him to do so.
I knew the area well from my wanderings, and when the creek took a hard turn near the graveyard, I had to follow the road.
There was a wide stretch between the roadside ditch and a rusty fence made for a perfect natural sidewalk.
And it was a perfect place for growing blackberries.
Big, beautiful blackberries, fat and sweet, unlike those in the woods that were but a shadow of their relatives a mile behind me.
Stuffing my face with the wonderful fruit, I thought my mother might like some, too. She'd been complaining about the hospital food, and maybe some berries would make her feel better.
So I found a discarded paper cup and began gathering up berries. When my cup was full, it didn't seem like anywhere near enough, so I tried carrying some in my shirt pocket.
I crossed the cow pasture and walked into the hospital with berry-juice on my face, hands and shirt, proudly bearing a Dixie cup full of fresh fruit. I made my way to the elevator, and rode up to my mom's room.
Like any mother, Mama was an expert in dealing with multiple emotions.
By that point, she had likely heard that I'd slipped past my sitter; now I was standing in her hospital room in a white shirt with a blue-black stain down one side, my hands and mouth looking like the victim of an ink-well attack, proudly offering her a cupful of fresh berries.
She smiled and said thank you. What else could she do? Then she had me wash off in the hospital-room sink, spread my berries out on a tray, and we sat there and ate blackberries.
That's been thirty years ago now; the creek beside which I walked has long since been covered with a culvert. What was a thickly wooded strip of green has been logged and cleared and knocked down to make room for more houses.
The graveyard expanded toward the pond with the big pet fish, and the cow pasture in front of the hospital is a shopping center now, I think.
But here and there along that path, and along a thousand other roads and creeks and woodspaths, are thorny plants that, in a few days, will hang heavy with tiny sweet blackberries-blackberries to be gathered by anonymous ladies who make jams by the gallon, and little boys who miss their mothers.