On my walk to the car yesterday, I noticed the mock Rose of Sharon still bore wild lovely blooms pushing towards the sky. Untamed, untrimmed, it covers the bathroom window and rises towards the roofline. I stopped to admire its resilience. Usually, someone has hacked it to the ground by now. I know that I need to get the bush pruned, but for another day or two at least, I'll let it be.
As I continued to the end of the driveway, I found myself thinking about the mulberry bushes on Pick-A-Chick, down McLaran Avenue and up Avis Avenue to the deadend.
I couldn't be more than five or six. Joyce walks ahead, carrying a pail. I've got a bowl. I'm wearing an old shirt of my father's, buttoned over my shorts and T-shirt. The bowl thumps against my legs as I scurry to keep pace with my sister. She's five years older than I am and walks fast, intent, determined to get to Pick-A-Chick before the birds eat all the mulberries.
When we crest the hill she runs forward, shouting, and a flock of crows rises into the summer sky. We move into the grove of volunteer bushes. It sits in a patch of ground which breaks the course of the street. On the other side, the abandoned truck with pictures of chicks stands at one angle. Or stood. It disappeared at some point but in my mind, rusted there forever, giving the spot its nickname.
Soon Joyce has filled her bucket halfway. I move more slowly, picking one small berry at a time. My fingers grow stained with the purple juice of the ripe mulberries. I sneak a few into my mouth til my teeth take on a red tinge and my lips look painted. The front of my father's shirt has smears of berry. Joyce half-heartedly scolds me for eating instead of filling my bowl. She shakes her head. She knows who will bring home the bulk of our haul.
And she does. An hour later I start to whine. Joyce relents and we begin the walk home, three long blocks carrying our harvest. When we get to the kitchen, we rinse the berries and store them in a clean bowl in the refrigerator.
Later my mother takes them out and folds them into a batter for muffins. I stand on the little bench to stir for her, careful not to break the berries. We put them in cupcake papers in the muffin tins, then Mother holds the door of the oven and slides the pans into the warm cavern. I bend over and look through the window. We'll eat the muffins for breakfast after church on Sunday, with fried eggs and bacon. Mother will take only half of hers, cutting it clean and spreading margarine with care. She'll eat slowly, and pick up the moist crumbs with the end of her finger. One of the boys will gobble the other half, which I know without asking that my mother really does want. But boys must be fed.
I close my eyes when I take the first bite of mulberry muffin. It tastes like heaven. I push away the memory of my friend Sharon taunting me. "Mulberries are for poor people!" I don't know why she said that. I think they are divine.
A lifetime later, I still wonder at the thought that the delicious berries would somehow be worthy of a little girl's contempt. I suppose her mother had told her that only those poor Corleys had to gather wild mulberries. I can picture the conversation in their kitchen, Sharon asking if she can go to Pick-A-Chick with Joyce and me, and her mother replying, "We don't need to pick mulberries on someone else's property, we can afford to buy blackberries at the store." I can buy berries now, too; but I would give anything to walk back to Avis Avenue, and scramble on the dead-end picking mulberries with my sister, while the crows cawed above us, waiting their turn at the delicious feast.