Nineteen years ago I wrote a piece as an assignment for one of my reading groups, inspired by our book—Kathleen Norris’s Dakota—specifically the chapter titled “Where I Am.” And now where I am has extended 19 years. Here’s a portion:
Six years ago, as a newlywed I moved across the country to live in this burg with my husband, Mauri. I didn’t know him as well then as I had 30 years earlier. We had become good friends in high school in Wheaton, Illinois. But Mauri moved to Newberg to attend George Fox College (now University) and graduated four years later with a wife and a 20-year marriage ahead of him. I stayed in Wheaton and married a man seven months after he swept me off my feet. The only contact our families had through moves and more than two decades of marriage and three children each was the annual Christmas greeting. Twice letters carried news of cancer. Mauri was widowed first, then I.
So here I am in Newberg, thousands of miles from my firstborn in Michigan, hundreds of miles from my married daughter in the Seattle area, and less than an hour’s drive from my youngest in Aloha. I’ve become step-mom to Mauri’s three children and daughter to his four parents, who all live in Newberg. (My original set of four parents have all died.)
Where I am speaks of my physical placement and the stuff around which, the people around whom I exist. Locations link my past to my present. They trigger my memory. They add to my identity. They connect me to people. But my 24 geographic addresses in 55 years don’t define who I am. In reestablishing my root system as an Oregonian, I bring with me all of who I was the years preceding. Who I am builds on who I was. Every experience, every attitude, every response adds a new layer to who I was yesterday.
Yesterday was the day. On our tandem rides I’d been observing the gradual ripening of blackberries along the roadside. This particular Sunday afternoon proved deliciously uncommitted, so I donned my grubby clothes and drove to the spot beside the railroad tracks where earlier I had eyed fruit-hung branches. With a plastic bucket swinging from my forearm, I studiously stepped a path through the briers, on alert for lurking predators who might have human on their evening menu. With gentle pressure I gripped one berry at a time, detaching each from its prickly branch, until my bucket was filled. The thorns did their best to dissuade my mission, but I accepted their lashes as payment for their offering. No blood, no berries.
We have enough money for me to go to the corner fruit stand to purchase blackberries for a pie. Yet I perform this annual ritual because it reminds me who I am. In the process I momentarily remove what lies between my childhood and this current layer of my adulthood. I’m in the brambled back acres of the house my dad built in Wheaton. My mother, a homemaker in every respect, couldn’t see those berries wasted, so she commissioned my sister and me daily to fill several bowls each. For sure, it was against our will. We would rather be doing anything else. The chiggers would bore into our flesh; the sun made us sweat; the berries stained our fingers; the “prickers” gouged our skin. Not one thing about that task was pleasant—except maybe the fresh blackberries and cream or the blackberry cobbler or blackberry pie or blackberry jam we enjoyed all year long.
This, and all the many, many learning experiences that comprise my life so far, make me who I am. Where they happen seems of least importance. Embracing the difficult, unpleasant stuff of life proves again and again the path to life’s best rewards. No blood, no berries.
Half a blackberry pie waits in the refrigerator. Mmmm. A small slice turned a few moments in the microwave, with a small dollop of vanilla bean ice cream on top, sounds pretty good to me right now. But maybe I can wait until after dinner.
What comes to mind when I read this? “The more things change the more they stay the same.” We have digital photography now and rarely go to Fred Meyer to wait an hour for our film to be developed, but most of what was still is!
In 2014 I posted this, It contains nearly identical pictures to the ones I’m about to share tonight!
I had the identical response from 19 years ago when Mauri and I took a walk near Captain’s Cabin, taking note of all the ripe blackberries along the way. The following day I was back with an appropriate container, cheerfully and laboriously picking all the reachable berries of correct ripeness.
My harvest made it safely home in our cooler, and after we unloaded the car and reset the house I went to work on my annual pie-baking tradition. I would be too embarrassed to share pictures of the process, as I made a huge mess resulting in the world’s ugliest pie.
The baking process covers a multitude of sins, so I’m just barely able to swallow my pride to include this picture.
Thankfully, the proof’s in the pudding, or I should I say in the pie, for it was delicious. Pictured was last night’s dessert, and here it is a day later, almost time for another go ’round.
Traditions die hard, and I, for one, am grateful.