648: Philosophy of Relationships, Blackberry Style

There is plenty of time while picking blackberries on the side of a dusty red dirt Georgia road on a hot, humid, and sunny June day to entertain philosophical thoughts. The task itself is repetitive, though fairly exacting, so that the mind is mostly free to pursue other pursuits while the hands are engaged.

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When you see a blackberry on the bramble that you desire to pluck, you must first weigh the relative possibilities of achieving it versus the potential difficulties, for example, its position nestled within the thorny brambles that protect it. This is very much like that first full look at that gorgeous guy or girl that spikes your blood pressure and makes your eyes dilate. Once you determine the difficulty level for that particular berry is surmountable, you must grasp the berry gently, or all you will be left with is a red-purple stain on your fingers, as blackberries are very tender and easily crushed. Another person’s feelings are often just that tender, especially at first, when you don’t know their triggers and tender subjects.

If you can grasp the object of your desire gently enough not to crush it, then comes the process of bringing it to the basket. Its defenses will snag you in this retrieval effort, and you cannot allow yourself to react harshly or instinctively, jerking back when you feel the bite and sting of the bramble’s thorns, or they will merely dig deeper, drawing blood. You must negotiate with them, twisting, turning, maneuvering gently, always gently as you draw the succulent berry closer. This is the intricate relationship dance as each of you come to know the other, drawing out old splinters and working through the unpacking of old baggage, which each of us brings with us to every relationship.

Once you have the berry free of its entanglements, you can add it to your basket to take home. Marry it – claim this person as yours, and pledge yourself to it, heart and soul.

When your berry basket is filled, you can take the result of your time and effort home to your significant other. If they recognize what you have offered to them, your time and effort, along with the tangible sweetness of the berries, you are blessed in the relationship department fully as much as you were blessed in the berry picking endeavor.

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647: Marriage of Berries

We woke early, and my husband asked if I wanted breakfast, and if so, what I might like: eggs, bacon, grits? This is his gift to me, the preparing of the food, and I understand that. I do not want food, because he will prepare it, we will sit and consume it, and he will rise from the table, content in his gift, and leave the room with its littered table, soiled counters and sink filled with the dirty dishes for me to attend to. The food sours in my stomach as I clean the dishes, the counters and the table.

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After the kitchen is clean again, so it will not attract nasty bugs in the heat and humidity that is Georgia, I gather my baskets and leave my house in the township. I drive several miles to the dirt road where my family, and the family of my family that was before my own family, used to live. This is the place I identify as the place where I grew up (even though I didn’t), and I know that this place is where the wild blueberries and the succulent blackberries grow thickly on the raised shoulders alongside the deeply carved and smoothed red dirt road.  Every summer when school was freshly let out for the heat and humidity, my family would come from the place where were living this time, and join with the family that always lived here on the red dirt road. I would take a pail or a pan and I would leave the house and trek to the dusty shoulders of the dirt road to harvest the bounty that only the birds appreciated when I was not there to claim my share.

Today, in my sixtieth decade, I harvest my share of the bird’s bounty while the day is yet cool, filling my baskets before the sun can sink its claws into the back of my neck. I am careful where I put my feet, my dad’s called warning from fifty years ago ringing in my ears, “Watch out for snakes.” The snakes come to these berry bushes, seeking their own bounty from the birds that also feast there. I must also watch for the ruffled, raised heaps of sand that signal the nest of the imported fire ants, aliens long established here, and also familiar from my youth.

I carefully pick only the ripest berries for my baskets, indiscriminately co-mingling the firm shiny round blue-black orbs of the blueberries, and the misshapen black purple softness of the blackberries, staining my fingers with their red-purple juice. When the baskets are nearly full and the sun has bitten my neck, I return to my home and show my offering to my husband, asking if I should freeze them for later or make a cobbler now. He chooses now.

I empty the berries into a large basin and run the cold water over them, watching the bits of chaff rise with the water. I fetch the large baking dish and use my fingers to oil the bottom and sides with Moroccan olive oil, and then I dust it with sugar, so the berries don’t stick. In handfuls, I sieve the succulent berries from their rinse and fill the dish with gleaming purple richness. I have more berries than the dish will hold. I select a plastic, zip-lock bag for the berries I will save for later. And then I sigh with annoyance, put the bag away, and pull out two shallow bowls to use all of the berries today, as instructed.

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I arrange pats of soft butter atop the gleaming berries, add brown sugar, dustings of ginger and cinnamon. In a bowl I whip with a wire whisk the thin sweet batter than will sink down between the berries and rise up between them with the heat of baking, binding them together, even though they are of two different breeds, two different kinds. A marriage of berries, bound together.

When the cobblers are done, I take them from the hot oven to cool, and the cooling batter pulls away from the marriage of berries, leaving visible cracks between them. These are spaces for the freezing cold ice cream to fill, a coldness that will be served with the still-warm cobbler, a temporary patch in the marriage that will keep them together a little longer, until they are completely consumed, leaving nothing but the dirty bowls for me to wash and put into the dish drainer to dry, and then to put away.

I say I will go again tomorrow to pick more berries for later, but we both know that I won’t.

637: Benefits

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There are advantages to living in a small town. Wonderful, affirming advantages.

There are also issues. One of those is the stranglehold a large employer has on the people who make up their current employees and their potential workforce.

See, in a larger metropolis, employees who are treated unfairly or just don’t feel appreciated for whatever reason, those employees can vote with their feet and take a different job with another company, generally without a huge amount of disruption to their lives. Many don’t even have to move their households to change jobs. As a result, some employers understand about treating their employees fairly, since they know the people have choices. At the same time, there is a correspondingly larger pool of employee candidates in a larger town, too, so maybe that advantage actually is a wash when all is said and done.

However, in a smaller town, a large employer is much more impervious to treating employees fairly because they know they are one of the few places anywhere around that has the pay and benefits people need to survive in this modern age. If an employee isn’t happy, they often are forced to suck it up, knowing that they will have to move their families and sell their homes to be able to relocate somewhere that has equivalent pay and benefits compared to the job they now hold with the abusive employer. This prospect is fairly risky, and many play it safe (throwing no rocks, here – I totally understand) and put up with being abused on the job, because it can be expensive to relocate – and it is certainly stressful to most people. I understand about needing a job, but at what cost?

Management has to get pretty obviously lousy to even casual observers before enough employees begin to lose their fear of the costs of calling it quits, and stand up for their rights, or just pack it in and say to hell with it, and get the heck out of Dodge.

I have been blessed in this employment department on several counts. First, I am a preacher’s daughter and for my dad, that was akin to being a military brat – we moved every year or so. I learned not to get attached to a house, or a geographic location, for that matter. It does not freak me out to move. I know I can land on my feet and be pretty content nearly anywhere.

The second advantage I have is that my career preparation happens to be a fairly unusual one that just happens to be in high demand in my part of the world, and indeed, pretty much the entire world over. I have always known that if I got fired today, I could pretty much be working tomorrow in SEVERAL locations not too far away, or as far away as I chose to go. Not everyone else has that security. Plus, I discovered that I can make a go of it even if I decide to leave the country again, so even if I were to be blackballed (yes, that does happen), I could still quite easily be hired overseas, because I am good at what I do, and I know it. That is also pretty liberating, and also something most others are unwilling to contemplate to escape an abusive employer.

They’d rather be abused, and stay where they are. Change is scary. It is also liberating, and full of infinite possibilities for a better life. Sometimes counting the cost costs too much. Be willing to take a chance.

Consider all the things that can go RIGHT, for once.