Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Goosberry Days Gone By

How do you speak of an epiphany, the Glory of a Gooseberry?

It’s hard to express such keen passion for a berry commonplace even in its day, yet now so increasingly insignificant most people have never even heard of it, much less seen or tasted one. So few seem to even know the word itself that I sometimes fear I will be its last living witness. A goose…berry? they ask quizzically. You mean, like, the droppings of a Canadian goose? And they chuckle at their own wit.

I just smile knowingly. No, no, you poor benighted soul, I think to myself, then repeat aloud, a gooseberry. You know, the berry on that thorn bush you find growing along the edge of the woods, or in corners of the pasture. Those light green berries with yellow stripes, the ones with skin so translucent skin you can see the seeds and the juicy flesh inside. They have this black, bristly tail, and…

But by then I’m usually arrested mid-sentence by totally blank looks, or glances that say, So what’s the big deal? And I most often retreat into, Oh, just wondered. I used to pick ‘em when I was a kid and it was kinda cool… So what’s new with you?

After several such encounters I realized that goose-berrying is no more about than berries than cycling is about bicycles.

It’s about three young brothers wandering the woods day upon day, reveling in glorious freedom. It’s about defying the clutch of thorns to wrest away treasured booty. It’s about lying on the soft earth with berry buckets full, reading shape-shifter clouds. It’s about a warm summer sun stored alive in plump berries and bronzed arms.

And, yes, it’s about the work of “stemming” the berries— using thumb and index finger to one by one laboriously pinch off the “blackheads,” driven to endure by Mom’s promise that “If you pick and stem them, I’ll bake you a pie.”

Finally, it’s about Mom mixing the berries with great scoops of sugar and tumbling them into the dough of a deep-dish pie pan, followed by the oh-so-tantalizing aroma of bubbly anticipation, and then, oh then, the sweet/tart taste of warm pie and flaky crust, ice cream atop, wolfed down to the last sticky morsel in lip-smacking abandon.

If I had but one day to live again it would surely be one such as this. How fortunate I have been, to taste what future generations may well consider only the ramblings of an unhinged old man.

But I have tasted, and I have known.

I lived in the glory days of the wild gooseberry.

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