How did she get such remarkable blueberries, each one perfect?
Illustration: Dov-Ber Cohen
The best part of my childhood was the summer. And the best part of the summer was exploring the woods near the bungalow colony we attended in Woodbourne, New York, often with my friend, Chaim Mordechai from Pittsburg, roaming far enough to feel free, but close enough to stay safe. Unlike cloistered Brooklyn, Woodbourne — more specifically, Maybrook Cottages on Budd Road just behind the fire station — was where I could find myself.
My father managed the bungalow colony. He was in charge of making sure the leaky pool was filled and rotting porch steps were replaced, and that made me the son of royalty. It was a small colony, maybe 25 bungalows. We were in bungalow #5, the one with the upside-down horseshoe over the door. My mother told me someone had put it up as a sign of good luck; I pondered the connection and never quite understood it. I remember the large Frigidaire with the heavy handle in our kitchen, which clonked shut as if you were closing a vault, and the bunkbeds printed with the words “US Army,” which also didn’t make sense.
Behind the pool was an overgrown campfire site. Behind that was a hill and up the hill, behind a short stone wall, was a cluster of blueberry bushes. Chaim Mordechai and I would often go there to pick the berries. The fruit was mediocre; there were a few dark blues, a lot of violets, some greens. But it was there for the taking. It was free, and picking them released my spirit.
The best blueberries were at the top of the bush. I would try to pull down a small branch to get to a larger branch, trying to keep it down with one hand and to use the other hand to pick the blueberries as they danced upward, out of reach. Often, I would let go of the bigger branch, forgetting that the lower branches would shoot up a second later, and get hit by them, creating the tell-tale work injury of a berry-picker.
Other kids soon found that cluster and picked it clean. I roamed the woods looking for more. I found a spot, to the left of the pool, behind the one-bedroom bungalows. It was smaller, for sure, just a couple bushes, but full of berries. No one knew about it besides me. I don’t remember if I even told Chaim Mordechai; probably not. It was utter bliss.
The colony had a communal center that was used as the shul. Attached to the shul was a one-bedroom cottage where visitors, often parents of families who spent the summer with us, could come for a weekend. My grandparents would often come up from Boro Park to our bungalow colony and stay for a week.
Once I joined them for dinner by myself. My grandmother served a full dinner, as always: fresh bread, melon, soup, and a main course. And then she served blueberries and sour cream for dessert.
Those blueberries were different. They were large and luscious. How did she get such remarkable blueberries, each one perfect? They were all deep blue – no violets or greens. They were all firm, bursting with juice. Mixed with heavy sour cream, they were otherworldly. My grandmother was a strong, smart, educated woman who set high standards for herself and others. That I remember the blueberries and cream so vividly, perhaps the most vivid memory of her many summer visits, would probably amuse her. But I do.
Today, I can’t eat blueberries or sour cream. Raw berries are too acidic and I’ve been lactose intolerant for over a decade. But every so often I think of the blueberries and sour cream my grandmother served. My mouth waters. My spirit soars once more. I remember how permanent childhood memories are. And I recognize the opportunity that gives me, as a parent and grandparent, to make a difference in the lives of my children.
Yaakov Rosenblatt is a rabbi and businessman in Dallas, Texas. He is the author of two books.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 830)
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