Sunday, 29 August 2010

The blackberry statement

We got an unexpected surprise on the way home to the house-sit from downtown: rain. Brief, but glorious and enough to leave puddles. It rained the hardest as we made our way down the most rural of the three streets home. After days of dry sunshine, the air filled with the scent of blackberries. Younger daughter and I have been sampling them over the past two weeks and noticing that they have been becoming sweeter and sweeter.

Years ago, in the dying days of another summer with little rain, I was sitting in a church hall rehearsing on a recorder. I was second recorder and the alto singer of a quintet which featured three accomplished musicians. I was one of the other two. Under a government grant, we were spending the summer making the rounds of senior residences, hospitals, libraries, and other institutions singing folk songs and playing late Renaissance to classical music. As a summer job, it was pretty hard to beat.

This particular August afternoon, we were between concerts and the other girl in the group (a talented song-writer and guitarist whom I'll call Kitti for narrative purposes) and I were awaiting the return of the three boys. Kitti happened to glance outside and leaned over conspiratorially: "Let's go and get some blackberries!" There was an abundance of them, gleaming at us like dark jewels. We grabbed a bowl and set to it, happily chatting and picking.

Now, maybe I need to clarify here. There are blackberry bushes all over Victoria, along the highway, roads, in parks. These berries were dangling over the fence which backed the church. So we were very startled when the lady in hair-curlers began screaming at us.
"Just what do you think you're doing?"
Kitti and I blinked at each other.
"Uh, picking blackberries...."
"Yes, on private property!"
Now we were really bewildered. "Well, the church knows we're here; we have permission to practise."
"So you sneak back here to steal the best and the juiciest ones in the middle...."
Slowly, as her tirade continued, we began to realize that she was the resident of the house backing on to the church, and that the blackberry bushes were in her yard. We must have reached beyond the fence top to the berries that were on her side, not surprising because, as Victoria kids, it didn't occur to us that wild blackberry bushes might belong to somebody.

She was also apparently further incensed by our appearance. Our costumes for our concerts had us in peasant blouses, long skirts and head scarves. Worst of all, we were bare-foot. Kitti shook her head in disbelief and made to hand her bowl to the howling lady.

"No! You eat them, if you're so hungry."

We beat a hasty retreat back into the church hall and were just beginning to giggle over our misadventure when Kitti peered over my shoulder and gasped: "Geez! She's called the police!"
My face must have been a picture, because Kitti laughed comfortingly, and said: "Oh, don't worry; the Saanich Police are really nice!" I had only a split second to wonder just how Kitti had come to this conclusion, when there was a knock on the door, and an officer motioned for us to come outside, where Blackberry Lady was in full throttle: "....and they took the best and the juiciest ones in the middle! They'd brought a bowl! And it was this girl and this girl! When I caught them, they just stared at me!"

This was too much; I blurted out: "What on earth did you want us to say?" Yowza. Her voice went up a whole 'nother octave. The policemen quickly led us in one direction and the lady in the other.

"We just went out to pick some blackberries and she started screaming at us..."
"Yeah, well, did you reach over the fence?"
"Probably. I mean, you usually just pick blackberries, right?"
"Well, she's a little hysterical, don't provoke her and leave those blackberries alone."
"Oh, don't worry about that..."

The boys arrived shortly afterward and had to be talked out of a harassment campaign involving putting snarky signs in the the church lounge window. One of the boys was the rector's son (hence our rehearsal space) and later reported that the woman had phoned and written to the church demanding our removal.

This was a long time ago and I remember the incident with amused and bemused disbelief when I remember it at all. I have the sad suspicion that it may have been the most exciting day in that woman's life.

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