I spent our whole drive to Sunnyside Orchard warning the kids to behave. My own three boys knew all about the cranky old lady behind the counter of the dusty country store, but their friends had never picked blueberries with us and had no idea how withering was the squinty stare of “Mama Bear,” the diminutive female half of the couple who liked to imagine they ran a friendly family market. Inexplicably, they’d invented these infantile names, and then—modeling their expectation that everybody should use them—referred to each other and themselves as such. So “Mama Bear” and “Papa Bear” it was, every July 24, when we came to collect blueberries for my husband’s birthday pie.
But lord Mama Bear was sour! The kids were afraid of her, and so was I. Her own contempt for any hint of joie de vivre turned me into an insecure scold, shushing what surely was a natural ebullience in the snips-and-snails variety of children. That she had Christian music playing weakly in the back room and biblical pamphlets peppering her shelves and charitable sayings crawling across every door frame was either ironic or predictable, depending upon one’s worldview. But this much was clear: My charges were not to speak, move, or breathe until we were loosed into the U-Pick patch, free at last.
Today Papa Bear led our little crowd on the hike back to the rows and rows and rows of scratchy bushes loaded with plump berries. We suffered through the annual lecture about which ones were ripe (the blue ones) and which ones were not (the green, red, and purple ones), and we hopped with good humor on the scale with the hand-lettered, cardboard sign that said, “Weigh yourself now and later, and we’ll know how much to charge for the blueberries you ate!”
We were ready to crouch under the netting that would soon enclose us, blend us into the blueberry world and separate us from the sky and all its blueberry-eating birds, when Papa Bear remembered one more thing. It was such an important thing, as a matter of fact, that he lifted the netting and slipped in among the bushes himself, talking to us as he moved confidently through the rows. “You need to…leave this one alone…Don’t collect from this …You can pick from any of these rows, but just don’t pick any blueberries from…” [sweating a bit now, breathing with effort, and, finally, pointing] “…This Bush.”
And yes, now that I looked, there was extra netting around that one. It was kind of isolated in a way. Not anything we’d have noticed on our own, mind you, in all the thickety, tangly, naturey, buggy, way-too-humid quarter-acre blueberry patch, but recognizable once pointed out.
It goes without saying that asking why would be impertinent. That’s just how the Bears were. “Aye-aye Papa Bear,” I acknowledged.
We picked and we talked. I reminded the kids to take the stems off now so we wouldn’t have to do it later. We argued over how much room in the big buckets constituted a pie’s worth. But mostly we hummed along and went our separate ways.
And I kept inching toward That Bush.
For some reason, I kept thinking it was meant for the employees. Which is silly, really. Out of the hundreds of bushes here, they’d reserved a single one for their workers? Nonsense.
Was it a poison issue? Were they experimenting with some pesticide? But why would they choose a bush so close to all the others?
By now I was upon it, and its blueberries were gorgeous and plentiful.
Was there ever a question that I would eat one? It was perfectly delicious.
Just call me Eve.