“The sun is hot; you’ll need a hat,” I say, reaching the small wide-brimmed straw bowler down from the coat rack and placing it on my granddaughter’s head. The tails of the black ribbon bow trail halfway down her back.
“I don’t want to wear a hat,” she pouts.
I rummage through the pockets of my old hunting coat hung from a hook in the mudroom and find the olive green plastic bottle of GI issue insect repellant. “Just in case,” I say, slipping it into the pocket of my trousers.
The three of us—my son, my granddaughter and me—pile into the station wagon and head out. It’s a short fifteen minute drive to the farm. Today the sign says that you can pick both blueberries and raspberries. We pull in the lane and park at the shack behind the white clapboard farmhouse.
“Just keep going down the dirt road to the stand in the field,” the woman tells us. “They’ll help you there.”
We climb back into the car and drive down the dusty road past the long red barn. Shortly, we wind our way between two ponds choked with green algae. “I’ll bet there are some frogs in there,” I say to my granddaughter.
“Maybe a croc-a-gator,” my granddaughter muses.
“You mean a crocodile—or an alligator.”
“No, I mean a croc-a-gator—it’s a mixture of both.”
We park the car in the grassy field by the stand. A young boy hands us baskets and points out the rows where we can pick: “Blueberries here; raspberries further down, where the sign stands.”
“I want to pick raspberries,” my granddaughter says.
“Okay,” I tell her, stooping to tie the cotton cord to secure the basket around her waist.
We each choose a row. My son settles for the blueberries; my granddaughter and I stand on opposite sides of the raspberry bushes. They’re dense, at least eight feet high.
“Pop-pop, are you there?” Her small voice pipes through the bushes.
“These raspberries are gigantic!” she says, an air of delight in her voice.
“They are big,” I say. “Be sure to pick the red ones, and don’t squeeze too hard.”
I lift up a stalk and expose clusters of large red berries. Some have already turned a deep purple. I leave the softer berries on the stalks, gently pinching off the firmer ones.
“Are you still there, Pop-pop?”
“I’m here. How’s it going?”
“I’m filling my basket with lots of big berries. They’re really good, too.”
“You’re not eating them, are you?”
“No—well, just a couple.”
We pick and pick. The sun is hot. I can feel the moisture collect under my shirt and around the leather band of my straw fedora. Slowly, the basket tethered at my waist fills up.
“How many have you got?” My granddaughter stands next to me, peering into my basket. “Wow, you got a lot!”
“How about you?” I ask, bending over to look into hers. It’s nearly half full. “Looks like you’re doing a good job picking. Where’s your dad?”
“He’s picking blueberries in the other row. He’s got two baskets almost full!”
We continue to pick down the row to the end, then walk over to where my son is working.
“How are you doing?” I ask him.
“Good,” he says. “The berries are big and sweet.”
I help him pick, dropping handfuls of blueberries into one of his baskets. Soon both baskets are full.
We walk back down between the rows, passing a group of young people making their way out into the field. One of the men in the party has already started to pick. “There’s nothing like this—it’s a once in a lifetime experience,” I overhear him say. “You can’t beat being out berrying on a day like this.” Silently, I agree with him.
We make our way to the stand. The boy weighs our berries and gives us a final price. The raspberries are more expensive than I had thought. I dig into my wallet and count out the bills. We load the flats into the back of the station wagon and my son takes a picture of my granddaughter sitting between them.
On our way out the lane I point out a small bird perched on a stalk of tall grass by the ponds to my granddaughter.
Some things in life just can’t be bought, I think. The berries cost more than I had bargained for, but I couldn’t put a price on our afternoon of berry-picking together.