Anna Maria Island, May 6, 1987

Some notes on Cracker logic

By Gib Bergquist

Wild berry picking was one of the many joys of summer during the 1930s, when I was growing up in Pierce, Florida. From these luscious huckleberries and blackberries my mom would make the best pies, jams, jellies and syrup you ever flopped your lips over.

She also had a five-gallon crock with a cheesecloth cover in which she concocted blackberry and other wines. This wine was for “medicinal purposes” and was off limits to us kids.

We sampled it anyway. Her strawberry wine wasn’t bad either.

We Crackers called wild blackberries “briarberries,” and of course, if you remember Uncle Remus, the picking place was called the briar patch. Another smaller variety of blackberry was called “dewberries.”

When the berry season was in, my mother would load up us four brothers, and any of our friends who wanted to go, and drive off in the family auto in search of ripe berries. Our favorite briar patch was in the woods near the Henderson homestead a couple of miles from town. The Henderson family had Cracker origins and they were wonderful folks to know.

Mrs. Henderson was tall and carried herself straight as a ramrod. She moved with such grace that when she walked through the woods, and her lower extremities were hidden by the underbrush, she seemed to be floating along.

Well, anyway, when we arrived at the patch and tumbled out of the car in all directions, we discovered that the Henderson clan was already picking away.

This presented no problem since there were plenty of berries for all, and my mom could catch up on the local gossip with Mrs. Henderson. We hadn’t seen the Henderson kids since school let out so it was also a treat to visit with them.

As my mom passed out the coffee cans to pick in, she delivered her berry picking admonition: “Now you kids look before you step into those briar bushes. You all know that snakes like to lie in wait under those bushes for a bird to fly into the bushes looking for a ripe berry.

“Be careful, you hear?”

Time passes fast when you are having fun and it was soon mid-morning.

Mrs. Henderson suddenly gathered up her brood and headed for home with her berry buckets only partially filled. My mother didn’t give it a second thought since she reasoned that Mrs. Henderson probably left to fix lunch and would return later. We continued with our berry picking until lunch time, and after a picnic of peanut butter sandwiches and iced tea, we returned to our berry picking.

We picked until mom’s dishpan and the other containers she had brought along were filled to overflowing. Then, tired but happy, we all went home with our mouths, hands, and shirt-fronts all stained a beautiful reddish-purple color.

Later that day a large Diamondback rattlesnake measuring over five feet, and as large around as my wrist, was killed in this very same briar patch where we had been picking.

My mother now knew why Mrs. Henderson had made her sudden departure.

Most Cracker women, such as my mom and Mrs. Henderson, are endowed with an unbelievably keen sense of smell. Mrs. Henderson had smelled that snake!

Now mom got all riled up, loaded up us kids and chugged back out to the berry patch to see the dead snake and confront Mrs. Henderson. The snake had already been skinned for a belt and a hatband, so there really wasn’t that much left to ooh and ahh over.

Mom drove right up to Mrs. Henderson’s house “on her high horse” and point blank asked her why she wasn’t warned about that snake.

“Now Inez,” sez Mrs. Henderson, “you just come down off your high horse and let’s talk about it.

“Sure, I smelled that snake, but the point is, you didn’t. If’n I’d told you, you would have thought that I was trying to scare you out of that berry patch and that wouldn’t have been too neighborly, would it now?”

Such was the reasoning of one Cracker woman.

My mother accepted it.

From Cracker's Crumbs, 1995 Gib Bergquist

   
 

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