July is holding our hills in a hot and humid hand while summer flows steadily along. The Rose of Sharon bush displays heavy red blossoms from its drooping boughs and tells us that it is midsummer already.

Black-eyed Susans gather in patches and stare boldly at each passer-by. Blue chicory flowers share the roadsides with Queen Anne’s lace and brilliant orange butterfly weed, brightening the landscape with their colors.

The gardens are in full swing. Loads of cucumbers, squash and green beans are being harvested and processed for winter. Mom used to tell us that she was putting away canned food for “snowy days.” The cold days of winter seem far away right now, but before you can turn around, they will be here again.

The Lord has certainly blessed us with a prolific garden this year. It seems that the more we share with others, the more it produces. There is nothing better than a pot of fresh half-runner green beans cooked with a dab of bacon and eaten with crispy fresh cucumbers. And don’t forget the pone of cornbread baked in an iron skillet.

Blackberries are ripe now, hanging black and glossy on their vines. Grandson Adrian brought me a bouquet of the pink flowers we called “St. Anthony’s cross” and urged me to smell it. It brought back vivid memories of the berry field when I was a youngster. These flowers, which actually are a “pink” or “dianthus”, grew all over the berry field.

I could smell again the pennyroyal crushed underfoot, feel the sharp stab of a berry brier as it grabbed me in the back, and slap at a sweat bee that insisted on lighting on my arm. Remember how these hateful little fellows would crawl into the bend of your arm and stab you with a fiery sting when you bent your elbow? And who has not tried to eat a nice, fat blackberry that had been previously visited by a June bug? It is unforgettable.

Oh, the joys of summertime! Fresh ears of sweet corn, picked straight from the patch, shucked, and plunged into a kettle of boiling water—slathered with butter, and sprinkled with salt, it is food fit for a king. A hot buttered biscuit, spread with homemade blackberry jam makes all the sweat bees, chiggers and briers worthwhile—not to mention blackberry cobbler.

It didn’t feel worthwhile when I was a kid, though. Mom insisted that we stay in the berry patch until our buckets were full, and it would be steaming hot by the time we had finished. No one has known true frustration until they have slipped and fell in those five-buckle arctics (to snake proof our feet) and spilled their whole morning’s work.

No matter how carefully you tried to scoop them up, you always ended up with more moss and dirt than you did berries. Brother Ronnie always managed to spill his bucket of berries. It was a common cry to hear, “Ronnie’s spilled his berries again!” We would get so irritated at him, but now I feel sympathy for Mom as she tried to clean the berries.

At least we didn’t have to pick huckleberries. They grew profusely on Pilot Knob, but so did rattlesnakes. Mom was deathly afraid of them, and refused to send us to pick berries there. I can’t remember our fussing to go, either.

It is amazing how certain fragrances bring back so many memories. The smell of the pink flowers sent me back in time to the blackberry patch. I was pulling some ground ivy out of my flowerbed and fussing to my brother Larry about the pesky weed. He replied, “Remember how it used to smell under the apple trees up in the bottom?” I had almost forgotten.

It grew abundantly there, and the odor of it, sort of musky and sharp, would follow us as we climbed the tree in search of ripe (and sometimes unripe) apples. I can still taste that fruit after all these years, although the trees have been gone for years. One tree had a sweet, mellow apple, and the other one was more tart and crispy. Mom canned gallons of applesauce from those apples, and jars of apple butter. We have more improved trees now, but nothing tastes like those old-timey apples of our childhood.

God kept his hand over us as we grew up and protected us as we climbed trees, roamed all over the hills, and took dangerous chances. We were truly blessed, growing up in the hills. I wouldn’t change a thing, even if I could.

I have been searching for a song we used to sing in grade school called “Swinging “Neath the Old Apple Tree.” The first verse goes something like this, “Oh the sports of childhood/ Roaming through the wildwood/ Running o’er the meadow happy and free/ But my heart’s a’beating/ Thinking of the greeting/ Swinging ‘neath the old apple tree.”

If anyone has it, I’d love to have a copy. Thanks a bunch.

The Waynedale News Staff
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Alyce Faye Bragg

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