The distance between my front door and my sister’s back door is less than two-tenths of a mile.
My three children and I have covered every inch of that narrow road for what seems like a thousand little trips. As I walk quietly along that familiar route in my sleepy seaside town this afternoon, I catch occasional glimpses of the harbor from in between the houses to my right. The sun is getting low in the sky, and it reflects so intensely off the white boat hulls from this angle, they appear to glow. My neighborhood is situated neatly on top of a small hill, and in just a few minutes, I could be from where I am now to the post office, general store, elementary school, library or wiggling my toes in the ocean. I’ve lived here for so long that I have to remind myself to appreciate the beauty of it, and the constant presence of salt in the air hardly registers in my awareness anymore. Gorgeous summer days like this would be the perfect time to play hooky and take a day off from work, but that sort of luxury doesn’t exist for me. Not now anyway. I’m on my own to support myself and my children.
As I step into the freshly-mowed grass of my sister’s back yard, I can see two o f her children playing on a short, fat plastic slide that probably feels enormous to their small bodies. Her older daughter is more of an impatient daredevil than her younger son, and when big sister can wait no longer, she gives her timid brother a nudge from the top of the slide so her turn can come more quickly. He shrieks on the two second trip down, and she giggles with delight that she doesn’t have to wait any longer. My eyes scan the property a little more, and I finally spot the tiny frame of my three year-old in her beige linen sundress, three or four steps into the blackberry bushes next to the yellow tool shed. Her little blonde head is remarkably no longer preoccupied with the adorable ladybugs that are carefully embroidered all along the hem of her dress. This morning, it was all she could think about. Now, rather, she is concentrating very hard on selecting just the right berries to drop into her pail. I can’t see how many she has collected yet, but by the generous amount of purple juice coating her cheeks and nose, she may still have yet to save any. I love watching her before she sees me.
When I speak to her, she immediately turns her face to me and smiles her beautiful big-cheek smile. Her eyes are squinting in the sunlight in a way that makes it hard to tell that they are a deep shade of blue. She reaches her hand to me with an offer of the two berries she is holding, and now I can see that even some of the long strands of hair falling freely around her face are sticky with juice as well. My sister quietly observes from the lawn chair where she is nursing her littlest one, and after I accept the sweet fruit from my daughter’s wet little fingers, I scoop her up and start to gather her things so we can make our way to my other two sisters’ homes to collect my two older children.
That was about ten years ago.
Hey. I just realized that it’s been a while since I thanked my sisters for being so helpful to me back then. I should do that today! After all. It’s blackberry season.