Her hat was floppy, pale blue, with a fuzzy pom-pom caterpillar crawling across the brim. It’s how I remember her at her happiest: Bucktoothed and grinning into the camera, holding a walking stick. With an empty gallon milk jug in her left hand (the top cut open to make room for fruit), she was ready for her berry picking excursion.
Every July from the time I was three until I was seven, my grandmother took my sister and me into the berry brambles of the Shenandoah Mountains. We scrambled down steep ravines to find the best raspberry, blackberry and blueberry bushes, the birds and the local black bears our only competition for the delicious fruit. Grandma jingled as she walked, the bells on her walking stick an important signal to let the bears know we were coming.
Berries are best fresh from the bush, still warm from the sun. I filled my tummy with as many as I could hold, and I stuffed the rest into my own plastic bucket until it — like my sister’s and grandmother’s — was brimming with berries. When we had picked all we could carry, we trundled back to Grandma’s home on the mountain. Our reward for the hike and the hard work was bowls of fresh berries drowning in cream, eaten while we crowded around the maple drop-leaf kitchen table.