Who taught you how to know when berries are ripe? When the time for picking is best? When to wait and when to act?
Was it your mum, your dad, older brother, or grandmother perhaps? Are you still waiting to be taught? Do you even like berries? If you are an Aussie like me, you may never have picked a wild berry until exploring the decadent gardens of the UK, only ever paying stupid prices for punnets of berries from Coles before.
I’ve spent that past week on the Isle of Wight…a gorgeous sunny relaxed island on the southern tip of the UK, Britain’s very own holiday destination. Sharing the week with a dear friend and her 22 month old, in the same week in which my own grandmother has passed away, I have been struck with a string of memories and thoughts about family ties, heritage, learning, and how we absorb our past into our very skin.
My friend’s son spends much of his time with his grandmother, quintessentially in her allotment (a fab British tradition of community based gardening), watering the many fruits, vegetables, berries and flowers that his grandmother labours over. He knows the lay of the land, his “ga ga” (garden), grabbing the hose and watering his favourite apple tree with ease and joy. He enjoys the natural pleasures of strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, and even gooseberries! He is learning when to wait and when to harvest, discovering how life is sweet with changing seasons and sharing the joy of plucking fruit direct from shrub to mouth, often with purple finger tips.
Sharing this with his grandmother and mum, these are indestructible memories, they are the fibre of his growth, building the core of his understanding, creating shared experiences which will bounce back to his mind in snippets in the future. They will perhaps be memories he shares with future girlfriends as he tells his own life-story on first or second dates… “when I was little I lived on the Isle of Wight and loved my grandmother and her garden….”
He will always know when a berry is ripe, and know what to do with rhubarb. He is becoming beautifully British.
With my grandmother passing away this week, I am flooded with shared memories long forgotten… school holiday train tips to the city, eating so many cinnamon donuts, hours spent in her hot kitchen baking and slaving, Sundays in church “peace be with you and also with you”, mornings spent brushing our hair 100 times and applying eye make up in pale morning light. I recall breakfast tea and toast in bed that my grandfather would bring to us, my grandma asserting that my future husband should have such basic skills and chivalry as this.
She never taught me when berries were ripe for the picking, mainly how to choose and cook them!
As I cruise along on this English train today, drinking Pimms and lemonade from a can and knowing how that would upset my Grandma (Pimms should be drunk only from a glass you see), I run my hand over my un-brushed hair and feel a twinge of… shame is it… or perhaps just disconnection from my past.
This week I learnt from others how to know when berries are ripe. Tomorrow I will brush my hair 100 times, drink Pimms only from a glass, and accept only partners who will bring me tea and toast in bed.
So hold on to those shared memories, and create new ones as much as you can. They seep into our skin and our selves and do not disappear.