Blackberries and bridges

I asked what you wanted me to write about, and the first request was to write about the emotions I’ve felt when engaging with different types of art – books, music, paintings, etc. It’s too much to cover in one post though, so I’m going to break it down into bits; starting with books. So, Jessica W., this is for you!

Two books always stick out in my mind when I think about books with a great impact on my life. They are not great works of literary genius by contemporary standard, but they are the two books that I reflect on over and over again.

The first book is A Taste of Blackberries by Doris Buchanan Smith. It’s the story of two young boys who enjoy all sorts of exploits – including picking blackberries. They are so excited to be invited into the garden of a crotchety old lady who lives in town (children are generally forbidden on her property) to pick her berries. But, tragically, one of the boys dies after suffering an allergic reaction to bee stings when they find a nest on her property.

The story talks about the surviving boy’s grief – as well as the guilt felt by the old woman – and eventually ends with all of the neighbourhood children being granted a free pass to enjoy the old woman’s garden. It is geared for pre-teen kids and whilst I was a pre-teen when I first read it, I enjoy re-reading it from time to time from my very battered well-loved copy.

Thirty years after I first read the book, I always pause when I think of blackberries. And when I’m out picking blackberries, I think about youthful friendships and the enjoyment and simplicity of childhood summers. Even though it is a sad book, it makes me happy to reflect on the positive message about friendship and carrying on that the book attempts to instil in its young readers. (I have tried to get my young nieces and nephews to read it, but have yet to have success with that!)

The second book is If I Should Die Before I Wake by Lurlene McDaniel. Another “death” book, the story follows that of a young woman who volunteers in the cancer ward of a children’s hospital. A bit of a loner, she finds a friend in one of the patients – and, as in any book for the early-teen audience – they fall in love. But his terminal illness means that their relationship is short-lived.

It’s funny that what I remember and reflect on about the book isn’t the love story or the tragedy of a young man’s death – it’s a conversation she had with her grandfather that touches me and that I reflect on often.

The conversation is about her grandfather’s job building bridges during the Great Depression. Jobs were scarce and everyone was desperate for the opportunity to work. At some point during a job, he was caught making a handprint and writing his name in the concrete support of a bridge they’d just completed – an act that saw him losing his job. The girl was very shocked by this and declared that it was “just one handprint” and wondered what the big deal was. So the grandfather explained that if everyone on the job put their handprints and names on every bridge, they’d be completely covered with such markings.

Later in the book, we read that the girl has gone to find the bridge. The foliage has grown up around the base, but once she clears away the grass and soil, her grandfather’s handprint is exposed and she smiles as she places her hand in the print.

Now, when I think about leaving my mark somewhere – or when I think about taking “just one” rock from an ancient wall – I stop to remember that my “just one” would be part of a bigger problem if everyone did the same. So it keeps me from unintentionally ruining something for future generations.

OK, these might not be the books you expected me to write about, but these really are the two most impactful books I’ve ever read. Well, except for encyclopædias and dictionaries, which I still read for entertainment and enjoyment.

4 Replies to “Blackberries and bridges”

  1. If you were to look at vintage photos of The Painted Desert, you would see a great difference between then and now. All because people used to take “just one”. And,though I love to collect rocks from places we visit, most of them are ordinary rocks found alongside the roads.

    1. I remember visiting the Ginko State Park museum and them talking about how much petrified wood that was carried off by visitors to the park over the years. I suppose that, in a way, the changing scenery is part of human history, but it’s still sad.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing, Frances!
    The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, and Scientific Progress Goes “Boink,” by Bill Watterson would he on my list. The first because it was the first book to make me cry, more like sob, because of Celie’s pain and eventual transformation. The second because it was the first book (collection of comics) to make me laugh out loud. I would laugh so hard I snort and cry.

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