Filling an empty five-pound coffee can with blackberries is slow work. When I was a girl, they grew wild on the hillside above the potato chip and pickle factory, and also along the runway of a nearby private airport. The blackberries we children harvested often ended up heaped into pies or melted into jam, but sometimes we picked them to sell.
The bushes were dense untrimmed thickets with wicked prickles eager to scratch and catch and trap us in their tentacled embrace, and it was impossible to come out of them unscathed and unstained with berry juice. After gleaning all of the accessible fruit near the ground, we scrounged for debris: cardboard, old boards, car tires—anything that would serve as a shield against the clutching canes and sticker bites—and laid it against the brambles in order to climb high enough to reach the heavy clusters ripening near the top. With the possibility of losing your footing and falling into the midst of the briars where both your skin and clothing would be torn to shreds before you could fight your way free; and the ever present fear of being swarmed by a pack of resentful rats that, as my brothers informed me, were prone to inhabit such places, it took some careless courage and dedication to pick blackberries.
But the risk was worth the reward. We didn’t receive an allowance and there weren’t many ways to earn pocket money. Sometimes the parson’s wife in the manse down the street would pay us a dime to weed her rose bushes, but we were too young for babysitting or mowing lawns, and a lemonade stand required too much capital. So from time to time, on late summer mornings, my younger brother and I would each fill a can with blackberries, walk a couple of miles to a more affluent neighborhood than ours, and go door to door selling our fruit for 75¢ each. They always sold quickly. Then we had the long, tired walk home to consider how to spend the profits. I wasn’t a prudent child, and I usually spent mine on candy.
Nowadays, I can never pass a lemonade stand without stopping to buy a cup. I pay whatever is asked for watered down Crystal Light or Kool-Aid that tastes more like cleaning product than lemonade, and I leave a generous tip. I don’t care whether the young entrepreneurs blow their earnings on candy or save it for college—for me, it’s not the point; I remember too well what it felt like to have money I had earned myself jingling in my pocket.
painting by William Stewart MacGeorge