I remember stains drenched down the lines of my fingers. Fingers are thick lines of bone, layered with flesh, and skin, tissue. Each divot in the skin, my calluses soaked in maroon juice. Maroon juice seeping into lines that trace out who I am from the tips of the fingers to the horizontal lines that cut off my finger bones, then it’s the palm.
I took the end of my sleeve and wiped the layer of blueberry juice away. Drying from the sun, the color of my skin was turning a light purple/pink. To keep picking, was a must.
“Pick one, eat one, pick two, eat two, pick three, eat three.” my mother and Muna would say.
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Muna was my mom’s second mom. Her first, Rosemary, passed when my mom was just twenty two. It’s interesting to have the capability of numbering a mom figure. I have one, right now. Muna was not a mom figure to my mom, more of someone to take the place of a forever love until it’s time for the other forever to exist again. My grandpa loved Muna, they lived together on a farm and carried on each others conversations for fourteen years. It’s nothing compared to the time Rosemary would’ve had.
My mom understood quality in time and her and Muna together shaped the way I take in time, well the way I imagine it to be. I’ve dreamt some nights of watching the way my mom and Rosemary would interact but a dream is just that. I’m sure spending a day picking blueberries with her daughter and grand daughters was on her to do list somewhere.
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When I was little, I used to read a children’s book called “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McCloskey. The book was based in Northern Maine and my grandparents estate was in upstate New York. I dreamt of picking blueberries for Sal and I did just that this past summer. I was able to understand a wild blueberry in its’ size and texture, its’ shape, at Acadia National Park.
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Cadillac mountain was covered in tall, loose pine trees and magnificent boulders with sleek waterfalls trickling down each side. In the summer these falls were more of a thin creek rushing on wet rocks, simply running off the edge of the mountain. It felt like Spring. Spring comes with fog and misty early mornings when the sunlight tries to break but it takes a good hour to come through. This occurred over the bay in the near distance. The view was an unsettled blanket of greenery; the grass, similar to plastic wrap when you cover a dish like mashed potatoes. Each part of the wrap needs to be pressed down onto the top layer of the potatoes so no air leaks through and you end up with bumps distanced in a bowl from the gentle press of your fingertips. The greenery was pressed down alongside rolling hills and meadows, forests, until the ocean, but the green ran long in length and shape. In between each boulder rest a bushel of berries. I would sit on the edge of the boulder and stretch my hands across a good branch of them. Clenching my hands together, not too hard, pulling at the leaves, and the berries as well. It was hard not to break the skin of the ripe blue. No matter how I chose to pick the fruit, I’ll always turn the color pink.
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My Muna took my family and I blueberry picking each Spring. Back in Afton, New York it was just a dollar per bucket full. You would park your car in a “lot” covered in grass at the top of the hill , take a few yellow buckets and a wagon, cover the buckets in plastic bags (on the inside so the berries would hold together and not juice to the base of the bucket) , and take a few hours out of your day in the orchard to find the perfect ones. These blueberries were like grapes. They were high of density and thick skinned, totally different from the wild ones up North. It took my grandma and I a good three or four hours to fill only two buckets because by her and my moms rule you, “ Pick one, and eat one”, this was the style of New York berry picking and it took well more than twice the time.
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My mom got a call while our other side of the family was vacationing at our families’ cabins in Northern Minnesota. Back in New York my grandpa was driving out of the post office in his Ford Crown Victoria with Muna. He worked for Ford for twenty years and never stopped buying Crown Victorias ( you should know his favorite show has always been cops. Ever since I was a little kid I remember driving to his farmhouse, walking inside, and he’d be sitting on his lazy boy with a big, brown bag full of shelled peanuts watching this krast show.). This was his fourth Crown Victoria in twelve months.
Muna was in the passenger’s seat. Over the phone my mom was told my grandfather fell asleep at the wheel while driving (she didn’t realize this was the fourth time this had happened), blacking out and all those things that come with old age. He was pulling out of the post office and that’s when it happened. He drove into a thin, medium sized tree, and the airbags pushed forward and punched my grandmother in the chest which then stopped her heart.
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We drove back from Minnesota, through Chicago to pick up more clothes ,and straight to Franklin, New York where the funeral was taking place. That drive I focused out the front window the entire time. I was imagining my grandma’s horses from her farm and thinking of where they would go. I hadn’t thought about where my grandpa would live ( he lives with us in Chicago now), I hadn’t thought about what family members I would be meeting for the first time, if her casket was going to be open or closed. I was thinking about baking homemade bread in her private, teal, kitchen at home in my pink cotton underwear and pixie cut. I was thinking about dressing myself in flour and a picture of me looking exactly like that while she kneaded the dough. I was thinking about her collection of homemade jams deep on the shelves in their basement. Their basement still had a fireplace from the early 1900’s and a bath on golden legs flipped upside down next to it. The gold was faded from oil and dust. The only thing from recent times was her jam and a collection of half dollars. I found them in the back of an antique bedside table sitting in the corner of the basement while cleaning out the farmhouse after the funeral ( we stayed for two weeks). My grandpa never knew about the coins but we counted over five hundred dollars out just in half dollars. I was thinking about their fake bowl of fruit in the center of their kitchen table. I would rip the plastic grapes off their stem and suction cup them to my neck and fingers, my forearm. I’d get yelled at each time but the feeling was sensational back then. My grandpa always had a bowl of miniature m and m’s sitting next to his dark green, leather, lazy boy chair, and a big brown bag of raw peanuts. And when I would come to visit both of them I would hug my grandma and smell peppermint with an undertone of Chesterfields. None of the grandkids knew she smoked.
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My parents gave my sister and I note paper in the back seat. They told us to write a letter for Muna to put under her arms. I knew then, that she had an open casket. I wrote about blueberries.
“Pick one, eat one, pick two, eat two.”
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Muna and my mom didn’t look alike, they weren’t blood related. Muna was 5’3” with short and curly gray hair. She always wore short sleeved t-shirts and brown or grey corduroys with a belt to hoist her pants up and short cut leather boots. Her boots were constantly muddy with carrot scraps at the base from caring for her horses. She wore a pair of silver wire glasses that were too big for her face and she had such a raspy but soft voice in the way she would speak to my sister and I. She was the grandma we knew. I remember hunting for garter snakes in the stables which then made me hunt for snakes when I wasn’t at the farm. One time I found a rock in the stable with a bolt stuck in the center and it was shaped like a heart so I gave it to her. We’d have bonfires in the center of the field that would reach ten feet tall and it all just stopped.
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Seeing her face was surreal in certain ways and she looked like a figure from the wax museum. Her face was heavy with makeup and her hair was slicked back and curled. She was in her favorite black velvet dress and her silver wire glasses were on. I realized she didn’t smell of peppermints and Chesterfields. I was imagining her eyes opening so I kept looking away. Her old arms were crossed on her chest like you imagine someone looking when they die in their sleep. I didn’t recognize anyone there. Her family was distant, always, like she is, now. ( She wasn’t close with her three sisters or brother and when she died she gave her horses to her sister. Her sister didn’t care the way she did and sold them to one Canadian company that took the horses and turned them into dog meat; J.R, Missy, Dandy, Candy, and Misty.) I was holding the note in my hand, it wasn’t in an envelope, just folded up neatly in my hands. My mom walked over to my sister and I and took our notes. I told her I wasn’t going to watch her touch Muna’s cold hands. I couldn’t help but turn around though. I questioned so many times in my head how my mom had the courage to touch a dead woman’s body. She slowly grabbed her right wrist and raised it up an inch or two, then raised her left wrist and placed the notes underneath. My sister and my notes followed her into the ground. After she put the notes under her arms, she put her hand on her chest and walked away.
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She was buried next to her first husband, in a cemetery relieved of trees. My grandpa had a first love and didn’t want to ruin his ideal burial ground, so he placed her there. Just a few miles away from a fruit orchard and right in the middle of a town dispersed of horse farms and antique homes.
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August 15th, 2006
I remember blueberries.