Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Blackberries or, Granny: an Introduction to Theology

I think there's an earlier draft of this somewhere in the innards of this contraption, which likely indicates I ought to return to pen and paper.

The world is this big in 1950 or so: my house and the following: across the street one door down is my Daddy's older brother, Unka B. Behind his house is the small frame building from which they run their electrical contracting business. There are two massive oak trees, one in the center of the yard, and one marking the border of the next lot beside the path. There's an outdoor brick fireplace/ grill between the trees, and below it, at the end of the shop, under the second oak, my Uncle's toy: an Air conditioner he designed and built. Later this becomes the business. Beyond that is an overgrown lot behind Granny's house, which is past the vacant lot between the two houses, where a covey of quail live; my Uncle likes to squat by the brick grill at dusk and whistle until the birds appear at the edge of the yard. Unka B bought the three lots and built two houses just before the war, one for him and one for his parents.

The most important place is, of course, Granny's house, where we make cookies (I have an identical bowl in my kitchen now; I don't think I've ever used it, but it needs to be there), and spend Friday nights to get away from our parents. Granny makes us anything we want for supper, but sometimes things don't taste as they should, which we have learned is because Granny was a Yankee and can't help it. We sometimes tease her about this.

One of the very best suppers in Summertime is Cobbler, which she is the best at making. There are two kinds, and I still can't tell which is the better: peach (OMG!) or, maybe even better, blackberry: biscuit dough baked over sweetened fruit. Sometimes Strawberry Shortcake, in which the dough is baked separately, with layers of fruit and whipped cream, is a nice change, but blackberry may be best, because we have the fun of picking the berries. Between Granny's yard and her neighbor's, at the back, are two rows of blackberry bushes whose branches arch back across one another, forming a tunnel full of sun and the best berries--a cathedral-- which no adult can reach, because they're too big to pass through, but we're not, and we fill our buckets while they struggle with the briars. Brer Rabbit got nuthin on us. As my mama was confined to the nursing home in the last few years, she told me my Grandfather and namesake, Granny's husband, had planted the blackberries; I hadn't known that.

Granny taught me to read before I went to Kindergarten; school being an unusual favor at the time for my class; it was a private school. I remember Bugs and Daffy, but I suppose there were Three Little Ducklings as well. She had a big upholstered chair with wide arms; each of us could sit on a side and read along. She taught us songs, too: "Rock a bye, Baby", and others.

She would tell me sometimes "I wouldna trade a farm for ya." which I thought was sweet: a farm with all kinds of animals and things! I didn't know then that she had left Indiana and the security she may have thought she had found with a husband twenty years her senior, at nineteen, with a baby Unka B and another on the way, when Dad Wood's siblings sold the farm out from under them when their parents died. He had left college and his dream of being a Methodist Minister to care for them and the farm for twenty years, buried a first wife and raised a daughter; he never went back to Indiana again. I know very little about the lineage from which my surname comes; it stops, for all practical purposes, with him. A farm, and the security, and the position it conveyed, was nearly everything in Indiana at the turn of the Twentieth century; I meant more to her than that.

When Granny died, in 1963, my cousin, Unka B's daughter, told me Granny suddenly sat up, at the end, and said "I see my mother" and fell back, to speak no more. Granny was a step-daughter, in an age when that mattered; she never spoke of the woman who raised as anything but "my step-mother," though she was close to her half-sister, Pauline.

Over the years, I have come to realize that, when I think of Godde as a human being, I know what She looks and sounds like, and I'm sure who it will be, should we still know such things, who will greet me in my time.


Grandmère Mimi said...

Awww, Johnieb, you know how to tell a story, love. I'll bet it's true that Godde looks like your granny. We'll find out one fine day, won't we?

Grandpère makes mighty tasty peach and blackberry cobblers. I don't know if they're as good as your granny's, but they're good. He makes a good blueberry cobbler, too, with blueberries picked on the farm where he grew up.

Keep the family stories coming.

fleurmagnifique said...

Another great story, Johnie. Your Granny's blackberry patch reminds me of the stand of raspberry canes that my parents planted. My sisters and I often had to pick berries for our Mom (and sample plenty in the process). I loved crawling into the spaces between and imagining I was in a castle tower.

Mary Clara said...

JohnieB, this really speaks to me. My folks were all farmers, too, going 'way back. My dad grew up on a farm in East Texas and by the age of 11 or so was growing vegetables on his own plot and taking them into town to sell to the grocer on his way to school in the morning. If it hadn't been for the Depression and a job opportunity in the petroleum industry, maybe we would still be farming. After he retired he and Mom went back to East Texas and bought a farm and spent another 25years there. On my mom's side they were North Dakota homesteaders and Colorado farmers. My stepmother's family were ranchers in Colorado and Wyoming. I don't think we who are a generation away from those farms can ever fully grasp what they meant, but you have touched it here. What a wonderful thing to realize that somebody loved you better than a farm and all that it meant.

FranIAm said...

Johnieb- this is extraordinary. You have stilled my heart and taken my breath away with this recollection.

Thank you.

Thank Godde!

Pagan Sphinx said...

This is a lovely piece of writing. I'm glad I came by.

susan s. said...

Thanks, JohnieB. I too remember blackberry cobbler. My mother would can blackberries every year. 1/2 gallon jars with lots of juice. She would drain the juice into a 9x13 inch cake pan and add sugar, and butter and heat it on the top of the stove while she made pie dough, rolled it out, cut it in squares and put berries, butter, and sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in the middle of the square. she would pull the corners of the dough together to the middle, seal the seams and very carefully turn it over seam sides down and place it in the pan. when she had 12 of them in the pan, she would sprinkle more sugar on top, dot it with butter, and put it into the oven. When it was done, it was the best eatin' ever. All the juice had been absorbed into the dough from the outside and the berries and sugar on the inside had developed their own juice. It was so good, the only thing that could make it better was vanilla ice cream! I must stop now as my mouth is watering, and I don't have a kleenex!

Jane R said...

Beautiful, JohnieB. We all seem to have recollections about berries. My French "aunt" (not my blood aunt, but she was my mother's best friend in childhood and I have always called her "Tante Jeannette") back when she and her husband had a tiny house in the country North of Paris used to make blackberry jam (cobbler doesn't exist in France, though there are other pleasures there) from the blackberry bushes out there and I still have memories of it. It was the most delicious jam in the world except for Momma's strawberry jam, which was she made of fresh strawberries from the street market.

Later in life, my mother grew raspberries, and before she began composting she would bury garbage around the raspberry bushes. My father and others laughed at this, but it produced the biggest, fattest, most delicious raspberries you could imagine. They never made it to jam, though. There weren't quite enough, and besides they ended up in our tummies very fast.

"I wouldna trade a farm for ya." That rivals the story of the Prodigal. What a wonderful image of Godde. May it live inside you all your days.

johnieb said...

Thank you. And may yours with you.

pj said...

Oh Johnie. Godde looks like my Grandma. (And she is going to kick my ass!)

But aside from that, and as I think I said before, you write very gorgeously when you write about your family. (And when you write about food, too. Hmmm. Oh, I've got to stop coming up with book projects for other people, darn it!)