A Nostalgia trip

Bill Miles

This train is going down a nostalgia track. If you don’t want to ride, get off at the end of the paragraph because the conductor will be taking tickets. Some of the old ‘coogars’ I associate with lament about uncertainty and speculate that a financial downturn is on the horizon. They forecast one “worse than the Great Depression” although none can really remember those days. Most recall our families talking “hard times”. My calculation is that the era was a continuing experience endured by generations in the Rural South and overcome mostly by World War II and the programs that followed V-E and V-J Days. Subscribing generally to a fatalistic prognostication I got to thinking how the ‘ole folks’ survived. They lived off the land and within their means. My daddy borrowed little, spent sparingly, worked hard and thought Mike Conner and FDR were saviors of humankind a tad below Moses and Jesus. That’s why I decided to engage in a ‘project’ on Saturday, the day before Father’s Day. Now what I’m talking about is what Dad used to call an undertaking in which he didn’t put much hope. 4-H Club and FFA undertakings come to mind. I remember signing up to grow an acre of corn. We saturated the soil with 6-8-8 and then laid it by with a healthy dose of ‘sodie’ (ammonia nitrate). The crop lords were offended and withheld rain. We pulled about 20 bushels (generously figuring) of nubbin’s. Hardly an ear was good enough to shell and take kernels to the nearby grist mill to be ground into meal for cornbread. Dad raised an eyebrow and advised me that next year he’d rely on his tried and true style of using less ‘guanner’ (bat droppings refined into pellets and sold to farmers for fertilizer) and pray a little more for better seasons. We made the 100 bushels’ goal set for the previous year. Back then a 25-30 bushel per acre corn crop was pretty good. So was a half bale of cotton. Last week while meandering near the Tennessee-Mississippi State Line with former Speaker of the House Billy McCoy, I saw a $900,000 machine navigating a swatch that looked like a quarter acre operating via ‘On-Star’. Its human operator reclined in the air conditioned cap while probably watching Mississippi State Baseball. Any quantity less than 100 bushels per acre would e considered a crop failure. Oh, I’m not getting on my trip yet. I’ve ‘clear cut’ a portion of my Tilden Homestead. My son-in-law has big ideas about maintaining the deer hunting atmosphere. Earlier I noticed that a big crop of wild blackberries were thriving beside the trails he’s manicured for deer season. I thought a blackberry cobbler was what the old folks talked about this time of the year. Fully subscribing to my depressed feeling that things are going to the proverbial ‘hell in a hand basket’ I determined to show myself that I know how to survive. After a pleasant breakfast with my son, the cooler weather seemed to beckon a trip to pick blackberries. I had scouted the territory. My wife had volunteered to help provided I’d weed eat around them. I don’t know if blackberries come off bushes or vines. I know what they cling to thorns and that briars will ‘eat you up’. I said “to heck with weed eating”. I rely on a loyal assistant to do that around our yards where I maintain (with his help) about eight acres of lawns in four different locations. I prepared myself mentally and physically for the expedition. My wife urged me to remember the ‘Off’ repellant. I was savvy enough to put on a long sleeve shirt. She said surgical gloves like women use in the kitchen would protect my hands. I grabbed a canister of wasp and hornet spray just in case. I also got my .12 gauge Remington and a pocket full of shells. That was in the event I encountered a ‘cold nose’ intruder. On the other hand such a slithery creature might consider me to be the intruder. I’d salvaged a ‘doggie bag’ tenderloin and biscuit from the earlier happy occasion. In my faithful pick up I headed for God’s Country (Tilden). I entered the field and crept along until I came upon some bushes loaded with berries, mostly red. That’s not the color of ripe blackberries. As I moseyed along in I found better pickin’s. I attacked them with a vengeance. Soon I had the bottom of my bucket covered. My surgical gloves looked like they’d been in a meat grinder. Thorns shredded them. After about an hour, I conjured perhaps an important acquaintance could be waiting for me back home in my air conditioned inner sanctum. I abandoned the blackberries. Instead of creeping out, I picked up pace. I’m not sure that I discovered any additional blackberry bounty. It’s hard to distinguish red from black when you’re roaring along at 30 miles per hour on a field road. I exited onto Mississippi 25 clipping toward home at the state legal limit feeling good about my endurance. Soon, I noticed that a string of vehicles about six deep were behind me. Obviously, they thought I was going too slowly. I picked up the slack, held the curve of Riggs Hill and leveled out across Reed’s Creek. I identify this geography because some of the world’s notable folks have traveled this path. I just knew that when I got home my good wife would brag on me. “How many gallons, you get?” she asked as I unloaded my shotgun, stored the ‘Off’, threw my shredded gloves in a garbage can and toted my bucket. “I reckon I got my allotment,” I explained. I knew that she thought about friends who have ‘tame’ blackberries which they harvest by the quarts and gallons. Blackberry jelly is a popular item at Farmers’ Markets and specialty shops. If I picked enough for a cobbler, she’ll need to boil them, strain the seeds after crushing the berries and put a lot of flour for crunchy dumplings. Many friends and I have been diagnosed with diverticulosis and told to beware of anything with seeds. That’s to prevent a worse malady called diverticulitis. Maybe my friends will stop predicting doom and gloom and join me in voting for hope and peace. I doubt I can count on any of them to help me pick wild blackberries. I’m not sharing my pie either.

If you would like to contact Bill Miles you can email him at bill.t.miles@gmail.com

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