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.