I stepped out into the cool morning. “Brrrrr. It’s chilly this morning.” I said under my breath.
“Blackberry Winter,” came a friend’s reply as she crossed the parking lot.
Two words which, anywhere else but rural Georgia, would need an explanation. Here, no other words needed to be spoken. A simple nod of acknowledgement and I was on my way. As if to confirm the statement, the blackberry bushes along the roads on my way home held their faces up in full bloom. The 50-degree temperature settled in my bones. Sure ‘nuff it was Blackberry Winter.
In case, you’re not from around here, Blackberry Winter is when spring days, which feel colder than a milkshake, come around just when you think it’s fixin’ to be summer. For some reason, they sneak up on you like a cat ‘bout to pounce. You’ve put your sweaters in the cedar chest thinkin’ you’re done with ‘em, when out of nowhere, bam! Winter again. This happens each year right around the time the blackberries are in bloom. Hence the term, Blackberry Winter. Some ol’ timers may tell you that it helps ‘em grow like a weed, however, since they are already weeds it’s hard to tell if the cold snap is the culprit or if they would grow that fast anyway. All I know is they tend to take over a place if you aren’t tendin’ to ‘em. Before you know it those bushes will be bendin’ low under the weight of the berries.
When I was a young girl, I ‘member going berry picking in the pasture. I pulled on my cowboy boots to protect my ankles from real live snakes in the grass. I braided my hair into two pig tails to keep it from gettin’ tangled in the briars. Slipping into a long sleeve shirt, I rolled the sleeves all the way down, even though it was hotter than Hades in the summertime. I grabbed my bucket and off I went. Startin’ on the outside of the patch and working my way in towards the middle, I grabbed only the sweetest berries. They had to be plump, and all the way black, any red on them and they would make you pucker up to kiss your grandma. The best way to find the ripe ones was to put on your tongue and press it to the roof of your mouth. If the explosion of sweet juice was like fireworks inside your mouth, it was ready. If the juice dripped down your chin you knew it would be totally worth the purple fingers and briar scratches that looked like you’d fought with a bobcat. The gnats you consumed while picking, were an appetizer to the main event, which was blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream.
As I’m driving down the road in the drizzly cold, a smile like a Cheshire cat creeps onto my face at the thought that all this rain and cold are just getting the berries ready for summer. They say not to count your chickens before they hatch, but no one ever said not to count the blackberries before they ripen!