A recent high temperature day had me thinking back to the hot summers of my youth while we were living in the United Church Manse in Marquis, Saskatchewan. I was nine-and-a-half years old and July was my month.
One day, Mrs. Parker, an old friend of Mom’s from Alberta, came to visit and I came in to the kitchen early that morning looking for some breakfast and Mom and Mrs. Parker were chit-chatting away over coffee. Talking about Saskatoon pie or something…I wasn’t’ really listening.
Mom says, “We’re going to do something really fun today!”
“Oh, great!” Says I. “What’re we doing? Going to the beach? Going to the Wild Animal Park in Moose Jaw? Are we going somewhere where I can swim?”
“No…better…we’re going BERRY PICKING!”
“MAH!!! No, no, no…not berry picking! Mommmmm. That’s not fun! I can’t go berry picking I had a lot planned for today…Clifford and Kevin Bittner have their go-cart running and they promised I could drive it today and I think Mr. Thul boo-stoned the dugout and we were going to go swimming ‘cause it’s so hot and then we were going to get a bunch a guys for 500 and then…”
“You are not allowed to drive a go-cart…you’re 9!”
“Don’t get smart with me, Young Man! You are too young to drive that thing and you can’t go swimming in the dugout, either, I don’t care how much BLUE stoning Mr. Thul does if there are no adults around…Oh, nevermind… none of that matters because we are going berry picking. Today! So, eat your breakfast.”
So then we pile into Mrs. Parker’s BLACK non air conditioned Chevrolet Impala in the 37C (98F) heat. It was a beautiful car but it was a sweat box that day. Mrs. Parker was driving; Mom was in the front, too, and my sister Shelly was in the middle of the backseat between me and my year-and-a-half older brother, Gordie, who was sitting behind Mom. I got behind Mrs. Parker where she kept a hairy eye on me in her rear-view mirror for the whole drive. She gave me the willies. I don’t know if I ever heard her first name. It was always just Mrs. Parker.
I’m going, “Do they HAVE Saskatoon berries in the North West Territories??? How far are we going anyways? I’m melting here.”
Gordie says, “Shut up.”
My guess is that we would have passed about four thousand berry bushes between Marquis and our eventual destination…Buena Vista Beach on Long Lake. A two-hour drive but we had to find THE spot, you know. Which didn’t look much different than the thousands of “spots” I’d seen along the way. But what do I know? There were berries galore.
I’m pickin’ and eatin’ and pickin’ and eatin’ and throwing a few in the pail and pickin’ and eatin’ and then I get a little cuff behind the ear and wouldn’t you know it…there’s ol’ Mrs. Parker grabbing my ear and telling me to, “Stop eating them all! You’re supposed to put them in the pail.”
“I’m not eating them.” I lied through my purple teeth.
I slipped her grip and ran the other way. I made sure I was far, far away from her for the rest of that tortuous berry picking day.
It was an amazing haul, though, I must say. I almost made my self sick eating so many berries so I ended up putting more in the pails than in my gut anyway because I don’t think I could have eaten one more berry that day.
We did have some amazing Saskatoon pie the next day and there was an odd sense of satisfaction in knowing that I had helped pick those berries. Ol’ Mrs. Parker even tickled me a bit; seeming to have forgotten my earlier transgressions and me hers. I went to bed tired and full and anxious for the next day’s summer adventure to begin.
“On the motionless branches of some trees, berries hung like clusters of coral beads, as in those fables orchards where the fruits were jewels.”- Charles Dickens (1812-1870).