Blackberries and a journey down memory lane

Published 5:43 pm Friday, August 10, 2018

Every now and then, as we age, we can be reminded of childhood days in a variety of ways.

Such a reminder showed up last month as a road sign on U.S. 58 in Lee County: Blackberry Hollow Road.

Blackberries were important to my family during the years of the Great Depression. Freshly-picked blackberries became part of great-tasting blackberry cobbler, a treasured dessert.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, the berries provided a small sum of money each week for the children who picked and sold some of the berries. A buyer came through the rural community each weekday afternoon in a small pickup truck, loaded with crates to be filled with blackberries and delivered to the nearest town for resale.

The road sign in Lee County brought back memories of those summer days. Not just the money earned but also because of the jams and jellies prepared by parents that would help us with winter breakfasts long after the summer months were gone.

As youngsters, we were cautioned to wear long sleeve shirts and long trousers. And a straw hat. Protection from the hot sun in July and August. None of that protected us from the thorny briars we encountered and the purple fingers we had at the end of each day.

That was long before we had heard of the poem, “Blackberry-Picking,” by Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. He mentioned the briar scratches and thorn pricks endured, the purple color on the fingers, and “… stains upon the tongue from sampling the berries.”

It was 10 or 12 years before we heard “Blackberry Boogie” by Tennessee Ernie Ford. In the early 1950s, rockabilly music became popular. Ern sang of “…headin’ to the patch to do some blackberry pickin’…” In his song, he was headin’ there to meet his girlfriend and both would pick berries.

Then, in 1973, “A Taste of Blackberries” became an award-winning children’s book by Doris Buchanan Smith. Although the book was viewed by some parents as being “too sad” for a children’s book, it underscored the familiarity we had with blackberries and would survive as a staple with future generations.

Blackberry Hollow Road at Rose Hill reminded me of a childhood past and took me on this journey down memory lane.

William H. Baker, a native of Claiborne County and former resident of Middlesboro, may be contacted at wbaker@limestone.edu