Company comes today: “Nice company.” Of course there’s a family story attached to that coded phrase. And, of course I’m going to tell you. When my mother was a girl, she visited relatives in the city. After she visited for awhile, they told her, “You have to go now. We have company coming. Nice Company.” Throughout my life whenever our own Nice Company is coming we announce that to each other with a a droll twist of the mouth, raised eyebrows, and a tilt of the head at the folly of the human race we mistakenly belong to.
Yes, I’m at the farm–at Pop’s. My Nice Company is coming over from the city–St. Louis–where I live the other half of my life. Alice is also a country girl who roamed the world and then came home. She’s entertained celebrities, but still stores left-overs in Mason jars. After our exercise class yesterday–in the city–I told her that the blackberries were coming on (how I love that phrase). She confessed they are one of her favorite foods. That’s a boon to my menu planning. Blackberry cobbler.
Early morning finds me dressed in my overalls and work shirt up at our 150 foot blackberry patch on the side of our old hayfield. Of course there are family stories about that, but I’ll try my best not to tell you. Suffice to say that back in the day we put up the hay loose. My job as the youngest was to ride on the top of the load and tramp down the hay. Hot, sticky, dusty work in the Illinois summer. Just now–after five decades–I suddenly thought: “Gee, did my 80 pounds really tamp it down that much?” In any case, that was my job, and jobs are like going to church in my family. My sharpest memory (pun apparently intended) is going under the black locust tree as we came into our barn yard and getting swept off the load. I recall it as being a long way down.
My picking pan is an ancient aluminum one (has to be ancient, no one uses aluminum anymore, do we? But, remember, at one time this was the most modern of materials). This pan has done everything you might care to list–including cleaning the rabbits we caught in our figure-4 wooden traps on cold winter mornings. This morning–a sweltering summer one–I reach among the brambles to pluck the blackest of the blackberries. It feels like milking a cow. That soft squeeze followed by determined action. True to form some small proportion of berries gets into the pan, and I have blue-black lips to prove it. Still, they mound up.
My brother mowed along the edge of the patch so we can get pick more easily with only a minimum of pricks and scratches. There’s a tunnel, too, with bushes on either side. This is still in it’s prickly glory. I’ve started at the far end of the patch toward the Lane House where I lived as a bride of 19. Originally the house of our hired men back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. (Okay, I wasn’t alive then, but everything on the place–Evergreen Heights–is ever ours–belonging to all of us and our collective heritage and family history.) When Husband Number One and I lived there, we called it “Geliebte Strausse” (loosely translated from the German as “Lover’s Lane”). As a boy from town he reveled in our half-acre pumpkin patch, the rows of pickles (Oops! Cucumbers), the rabbit trapping (with the occasional ‘possum and groundhog I cooked with sweet potatoes. Really! I’m not making this up.) The trick to cooking ‘possum and groundhog is to parboil them first to get some of the gamey taste out and start to work on the fat. ‘Possum is particularly oily. Then, roast on a rack inside a covered baking pan to let the fat drip off. Does not make good gravy.
When I get to the middle of the blackberry patch, I meet my niece coming from the other end. There’s a curve in the long bramble hedge, so it’s a bit of a surprise to both of us. I love the metaphor of meeting in the middle, each of us carrying the bounty of our fruit.
I’ve rambled on long enough. I’ll leave you in the brambles–unless you want to come to dinner (what we call a mid-day meal in the country)–eat some of our cobbler, and revel in being Nice Company.