As a child I picked them in the wooded area behind our house and now at our current home, there’s an orchard over the hill bearing all kinds of apple and pear fruit trees and a twenty five foot row of bush blueberries that drip like grapes on a vine. Like potato chips, one is too many and a thousand is never enough, although this delicious, antioxidant is a far better dietary choice.
I love blueberry pie, (any pie really) and my mother and grandmother couldn't be topped with just the right amount of sugar and the perfect flaky crust. If I close my eyes I can see and smell the pie cooling on the the wood stove at grandma's house. The juices bursting with flavour, bubbled up around the crust to let you know what fruit awaited your fork. Nana would cut and let us eat the pie while it was still warm and the juices would ooze out and drown the bottom of the pie plate with sweet nectar.
The photo of Nana Olsen chasing me up the staircase with the broom is a precious memory frozen in time. Someone had given me an old camera and I snapped a bunch of pictures during that summer's visit and lucky for me or I wouldn't have any visual memories of the holidays in Springhill or pictures of my cousins. The photo below is Sharla, my idol, with hair down and tanned to perfection. Nana above, is chasing after me with the broom handle after I'd snuck up behind her and untied her apron probably a dozen or so times.
My Nana was a beautiful woman inside and out and full of the devil. She loved to laugh, a deep throaty laugh; a genuine laugh. Her dark eyes sparkled as she chased me though the house as I frantically searched for cover to avoid the tickling of a lifetime and avoid being forced to squeal like a little piglet.
On the sly, she would press a nickel into my hand, put a finger over her lips and do a head gesture in the direction of the little store down the road. That was our little secret, and I'd secure a bag of penny candy to satisfy both of our sweet tooth's. We'd huddle in the living room, out of site to hand over the contraband. Not such a terrible thing for me, but Nana was a type II diabetic and was supposed to behave herself.
If asked to describe her in one word it would have been "fun". She cheated at cards and snapped gum, told tale tales to pull our legs and pinched our bottoms. She was lively and quick, chasing me through the house and up the stairs. Yup, she wasn’t a grandmother who spent all her time with the adults, she was full of fun and had us kids on the run!
If memory serves me correct she was slightly older than me and a year ahead in school. My December birth date held me back during the days when you had to be five before September to start the school year. I was somewhere between her age and her younger sister Brenda. I do remember, quite vividly, that Sharla was brilliant, scoring perfect report cards every year. No idol of mine was ever second rate!
Terry, her older brother was handsome and I may have had a little crush on him....well okay, I had a gynormous ole crush and got pretty quiet in his presence, communicating with a flushed face and down-turned head. Cousins aside, we were virtually strangers except for those two weeks a year so a little crush was allowed. It wasn't as if he was going to kiss me or return my feelings. He probably thought I was a gangly, wet behind the ears country bumpkin and barely tolerated me in as much as I thought he was handsome and cool.
I adored Sharla, and envied her with equal ferocity. Not only was she gorgeous, with a long braid down her backside, a direct contrast to my bowl cut, around the ears butcher, but even more importantly, she got to see Nana any day of the week. She had the luxury to just pop in after school to say hi to get one of those special hugs any time she wished. What a lucky girl she was, she and her siblings. There were three, two brothers, Terry and Kirk and a sister Brenda. Luckiest darn kids in the world as far as I was concerned.
During the summer holidays Nana used to braid their hair because their mom, Sarah, left early for work. They'd pop in and she'd split the locks into three tails and weave them into this thick, perfect braid and I would sit and watch envying every single hair on their heads. What a memory for Bendra and Sharla to savour, the best Nana in the world fixing their hair, tugging it into the perfect braid. I remember how their heads rocked back and forth as Nana pulled each tail so it fit snug and tight into the braid. My eyes would have been as big as saucers....little green saucers, because my mother would never allow our hair to grow beyond stubble; apparently it was too much of a chore to maintain, making it a life long desire to grow locks down my back.
Springhill is famous for three things. One is Anne Murray, second is coal mining and the related historical disasters, and thirdly the blueberry. They grew everywhere on the residual rocky glaciated landscape, and as the season peeked you saw a blanket of blue as far as the eyes could see. They had a blueberry factory, not sure if it was right in Springhill or in the surrounding area, but a lot of the townsfolk worked there. The company hired scoopers and paid them by the flat to clear the fields. The more you worked the more money you pocketed. My hard working cousins scored well. The haul was somewhere between $75 and a $100, a lot of money back in those days, especially to someone only used to an allowance of .25 cents like me. I asked or begged to tag along to make some big money too, but that didn’t work out so much.
My eyes couldn't believe the bounty before me. The blue went on for miles and my eyes nearly popped out of my head as my stomach growled in anticipation of the feast. I plunked my lazy butt at the beginning of a row and ate my way to the end, scooping the bare minimum to line the bottom of my pail. I don’t know where they all went but I managed to cram them in, filling my stomach and the esophagus all the way up to the back of my throat. Probably had about a hundred dollars worth of berries in there. I was wearing white pants that weren’t so brilliant after sitting on what I didn’t eat. And I don’t think I’ve ever pooped like that since. There needs to be a new word invented to describe the clean-out I experienced. It’s truly a wonder it didn’t come out of both ends, I should have been sick, maybe enough to put me off blueberries for life, but miraculously, I held them all in although bending over was out of the question and only a burp or two hinted that there was discontent brewing in the land of acids and enzymes.
I earned an humiliating $7.50, evidence that some berries made it into the flat. I was viewed with a few head shakes and I wasn’t invited to go back the next day. I probably embarrassed my hard working cousins who had vouched for me. Having never seen that kind of abundance I lost my mind, transforming into a two legged piggy with blue stained teeth and fingers, lagging far behind as the real pickers moved to further fields. I’m sure the novelty would have worn off quickly and a second chance at the fields might have allowed some decent money in my pocket, but I don’t think they wanted me back to eat them out of house and home. For a little thing I had a healthy appetite, or maybe it would be best described as an unhealthy one.
Scooping the berries with a box like tool was slick. It had a handle and teeth along the bottom, like a comb pick. You push it along the bush just under the leaves and the berries, draw it upwards and they fall off into the scoop. Then you filled up a container that you carry with you and then dump that into something called a flat. Leaves, grubs and all else went into the scoop that got separated later at the factory.
I spent the little money I made at the candy store down the road, liquidating it all into sugar. Back in the day you could buy a ton of sweets for pennies. Twenty-five for a nickel kept a girl busy chewing for hours. Those were the days of tar babies and licorice cigars, my favorites and they were twice the size of any candy today! I remember the counter behind glass, staring into the objects of my desire. The colours of sugar are as splendid as the colours of wool!
So every time I see berries in a box at this time of year, I think of those days in with my cousins in the Springhill blueberry fields, eating my way to nirvana. Very happy pages in the book of my childhood.
Blueberries are in abundance in Springhill. Any field was covered in blue and there for the taking. Nana would whip up a blueberry pie anytime a tin full arrived home and she’d cut it while still warm so the liquid would ooze out and pool in the bottom of the pie plate. A juice so sweet it could have been the nectar or the gods. Her crust was killer, and although I can make a crust equal to the memory, I dread having a full pie at my disposal, one piece being too many and a full plate not enough. I search for the perfect pie in restaurants but they always pale in comparison, except for The Gazebo Café in Mahone Bay, a close second and enough to do the job of rekindling the memory. Well worth the stained teeth and high blood sugar scores.
And just a little rant....none of this microwave pie crap for me. Pasty put through a nuking is soggy and limp. A pie needs oven heating to gently warm the fruit and enhance the dough into a crunchy, mouth watering flake. Restaurants ought to be ashamed to send out microwaved, wilted pie, but maybe today's folks don't know what a good old fashioned oven baked pie should taste like....I'm full of sadness for them.......
I recently connected with Sharla through Facebook and she popped by my shop one Sunday when I wasn’t there and left her card in the consignment shop next door. I hope to meet up again soon, maybe hash around the old days a bit and catch up on our current lives.