True Blue Blueberries

My wife and I are at a blueberry farm located in the middle of nowhere. My wife wears a sunhat. I am wearing a third-degree sunburn.

There are acres of blueberries stretching toward the treeline. The bushes are loaded with beautiful purple berries that are—this is a well-known fact—explosively high in fiber.

Blueberries are a big part of life in South Alabama. My wife is from Brewton, the “Blueberry Capital of Alabama.” It’s your quintessential small town, with a cute mainstreet, historic homes, and 1,228 nearby churches.

Brewton is the kind of place that dedicates entire holidays to the humble blueberry. They have the Alabama Blueberry Festival, complete with a car show, arts and crafts, and music. And of course they have the Blueberry Drop. The Blueberry Drop is a New Year’s Eve event where instead of dropping a big ball like they do in Times Square, they drop a giant blueberry behind the Church’s Chicken.

When I first met my wife, we spent a lot of time picking blueberries. One summer, a local farmer got several volunteers from our little church to pick blueberries for a three-day weekend. I was an adult “chaperone” for the youth group blueberry squad.

Now, let me say upfront that the last thing you want to do is chaperone a youth group for a weekend in rural Alabama. It’s misery.

When youth-group kids reach a certain age, all they do is run around pinching each other’s hindparts and smuggling unfiltered Camels. And at night—at least this was true for the boys—they would sit around a campfire and hold scientific discussions about human anatomy using slang words only.

I remember when the farmer warned the youth group that blueberries were a VERY high-fiber fruit, and not to eat too many of them. The boys ignored this and ate their weight in blueberries. The next morning, these boys spent a lot of private time in the woods having moments of deep spiritual reflection.

I was in my early 20s back then, which seems like a lifetime ago.

Anyway, today I’m picking berries like a maniac. I’m filling my bucket one berry at a time. And I’m almost feeling human again. For the past 90 days I’ve been cooped up, quarantining, social distancing, and losing my mind. Sometimes I think I’ve lost my inspiration altogether.

But standing in this countryside, my wife beside me, a breeze whipping around me, I feel like a person again.

My wife says, “Remember the last time we were here?” She speaks with a mouthful of berries.

As it happens, I do remember the last time. It was one summer day about 15 years ago, my wife and I were having a miserable year. We had both lost our jobs. We were hemorrhaging money and didn’t know where our next paycheck would come from.

Then, as if things couldn’t get any worse, that was the same period the doctor found a lump in my wife’s breast.

It was on one random weekend that my wife suggested we forget about doctors and pick blueberries. I thought this was a horrible idea, but I agreed.

We did a lot of holding hands that day. Some crying. And a lot of eating. But it was good therapy, and after a marathon of picking berries we were on our way home when my wife declared that she wanted pizza.

“Pizza?” I was thinking. We didn’t have enough money to buy Chiclets, let alone dinner. Even so, I looked at this woman, her bare feet on my dashboard, and I marveled at how short life can be. I wanted to tell her it was going to be okay, but I didn’t know whether I’d be lying.

We pulled over at a Pizza Hut. My wife ordered a pizza buffet for one person. I ordered tap water. When nobody was watching, we shared our pizza. This is of course expressly against the rules, but at least we said grace first.

Before we left, I crammed 19 slices of pizza into my wife’s purse and ran like the wind. This is also against the rules.

In the following weeks, my wife and I were sick with worry over what the doctor would say about her lump. But it was weird. Because also during that time, we had so many blueberries that we didn’t know what to do with them. We ate pies, cobblers, pancakes, muffins, and blueberry ice cream until our kidneys were permanently purple.

I will never forget the morning when the doctor said my wife’s mass was benign. My wife and I cried for a full hour in the parking lot. And do you know what we did a few days afterward?

We drove to this little U-pick blueberry farm. I felt like I’d been reborn that day. I didn’t care if I ever had a steady paycheck again, as long as I had my pizza-thieving partner beside me.

Finally, I am done picking for the day.

After several hours of filling buckets, I am on my way back to the car. I pass a young couple in the parking area. They are wearing straw sunhats, carrying buckets. They are eating blueberries by the fistful. I overhear their conversation. I can tell they are newlyweds.

And I can’t help but wonder if they know how surprising life will be. I wonder if they know how many curveballs this world will throw at them. I wonder if they know how beautiful they are.

Above all, I wonder if they understand how truly high in fiber these blueberries are.

22 comments

  1. Christina - June 14, 2020 7:13 am

    Love your blueberry love that overcomes fear, sadness and thieving/sharing. 😝 You two are a match from heaven!

    Reply
  2. jeanlana2 - June 14, 2020 7:57 am

    I love the chuckles and smiles you evoke in me. You chase away these days’ for-real gloom & doom. And, just like exercise is to metabolism, the light you bring shines for a good while. It’s impossible to rank each night’s creation. Your extremely imaginative, unexpected metaphors are often mind blowing. Thank you, Sean.

    Reply
  3. Cathi Russell - June 14, 2020 9:23 am

    I’ve always found my worst times somehow morph into the best memories because of the support & love from family & friends. I’m glad you & Jamie have that. To life!

    Reply
  4. Sandi. - June 14, 2020 10:31 am

    Sean, what pleasant blueberry memories you and Jamie share. Did you know that raspberries have 8 grams of fiber per cup compared to 3.6 grams per cup for blueberries?
    I think I’m addicted to raspberries, but blueberry muffins are hard to beat.

    Reply
  5. Bob Brenner - June 14, 2020 10:35 am

    Chiclets? Boy does that bring back memories!

    Reply
  6. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack - June 14, 2020 10:54 am

    Wild Blueberries gathered into a kid-sized pail in the forests of northern Wisconsin on a summer visit to my Grandma are one of my sweetest memories. I try not to remember the ticks, chiggers and mosquito bites. They were a small price to pay anyway.

    Reply
  7. Connie Ryland - June 14, 2020 12:18 pm

    I am so happy you are out and about again! I love that you can paint pictures with your words. I see little slices of life every time I read your column. Sending love and hugs.

    Reply
  8. Sandy Benson - June 14, 2020 12:34 pm

    Love this one, Sean! Thanks for all you do…

    Reply
  9. Dee Thompson - June 14, 2020 12:45 pm

    This is one of your best columns, Sean. Reminded me of two things. One, my son’s tennis coach gave him a high-fiber granola bar right before a match years ago and my poor son was in misery. Now he won’t touch any sort of granola or protein bar. Two, I had stage 1 uterine cancer 7 years ago and I was vastly relieved after the surgery to know it hadn’t spread anywhere else and the hysterectomy got it all. Cancer is a scary word and I lost my dad to it. / Keep writing, my friend. / You also might find my latest blog interesting [The Crab Chronicles].

    Reply
  10. Keloth Anne - June 14, 2020 1:34 pm

    You two are a wonderful and perfect match! Thanks for continuing to spread joy and sunshine ♥️♥️

    Reply
  11. Jackie McClung - June 14, 2020 1:48 pm

    We have 7 small bushes and have picked twice. Last year we picked 35 gallons. I pruned the bushes last Winter and expect fewer this year but more next year. They are much larger this year. We have blueberries in something almost every day.

    Reply
  12. aleathia nicholson - June 14, 2020 3:03 pm

    There are few things in days of youth as interesting as crapping blue boobies and wishing they’d never ever even seen a blueberry.

    Reply
  13. Linda Moon - June 14, 2020 5:07 pm

    This column began with two somewhat disturbing visuals for me: third degree sunburn and a high explosion. Soon, the column led to the Festival, and my vision improved. You may THINK you’ve lost your inspiration, Human. As I re-read your tribute to Reese Loggins from yesterday, I say you have not. It was the most beautiful homily I’ve ever experienced. It brought rest to my soul as I remembered Reese and my friend Janice. Your pizza-thieving partner with her benign news from 15 years ago is wonderful! That was the first of several times I got malign news, and I’m grateful to be here reading Sean of the South before I join those others…many of them. So there. YOU inspire me.

    Reply
  14. Meg Widmer - June 14, 2020 5:23 pm

    Simply said….discovered you just recently and like your experiences and writing of same. Takes me home to the farm. Keep keeping on.

    Reply
  15. MAM - June 14, 2020 6:24 pm

    After happy (and sad for Reese) tears yesterday to a hearty chuckle at the end of today, I continue to be in awe of your marvelous storytelling skills!

    Reply
  16. JimmyP - June 14, 2020 7:51 pm

    Made my day! Thanks, Sean.

    Reply
  17. Ginger Smith - June 14, 2020 10:49 pm

    Nearby Castleberry was the Strawberry Capital of Alabama and still has a strawberry festival….at least, in normal years.

    Reply
  18. Debbie Luedecke - June 15, 2020 12:57 am

    Miss you and Jamie! John and I are at Lake Martin, permanently for the last 4 years. Reading your stories remind me of days, years gone by. Would like be to see you both!💕

    Reply
  19. kathy spitaleri - June 15, 2020 1:54 am

    I live this one. It shows you and your wife have lived in real life. Praise the Lord she is fine. Health is everything.

    Reply
  20. Joyce Jay Mills - June 15, 2020 5:00 pm

    Love this story Thank you 🙂

    Reply
  21. Joyce J Mills - June 15, 2020 5:02 pm

    Love this story and Blueberries 😉

    Reply
  22. Katie Schweiss - June 15, 2020 11:30 pm

    Oh I love this post, for so many reasons! I live in the Puget Sound area of western Washington, near the Canadian border, and this area is the top blueberry producing region in the U.S. Many times I’ve chaperoned young ones picking, and in days gone by the same thing with strawberry and raspberry picking in the Midwest. The memories of those warm, just-picked fruits with juices running down your chin. My dad used to say that they ought to weigh the kids before and after they come to the patch and charge for consumption! It’s amazing the memories you can file away from a simple afternoon. Rejoicing that Jamie’s news was good; often it is not. I lost one of my best friends to a lump that was not benign; she did not live long enough for us to take our daughters picking together. Funny, I thought about that one day when I took the girls out, how much her mom would have enjoyed doing that. Sadly, her little one was just two when her mom passed. We talked about her was we picked berries that day, so maybe she will have a memory of berry picking and learning about her mom. Oh, and I am on the keto diet, so blueberries can be enjoyed by me, while many other fruits are verboten. Thank you for sharing such a poignant moment. God bless.

    Reply

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