The Right And The Wrong Way To Pick Huckleberries 1915


The hills of Pennsylvania abound with huckleberries. Many people call them blueberries. They were found in lightly wooded areas and in ravines between the strippings and coal breakers. Most of the bushes were low requiring one to bend ones back to the fullest and to maintain that position for as long as one wished to gather berries.

At times we here fortunate enough to find a cluster of June berries. They grew on high bushes were darker than their cousins, and more seedy. They did not taste as well, but in a pie one didn't notice the difference.

Despite the back bending labors we looked foreword to huckleberry season and we were ready. Each of us had a berry can- usually an old coffee can with two holes near the rim. A rope was strung through these, and this is the way be carried ''our pails”. Most of the older children had pails which could hold two quarts. The younger children carried smaller pails. If our effort was full fledged, a still larger container was taken along into which one could empty two quarts and then try for another.

Since Ma was always either pregnant, or busy tending to a new baby, most of my early berry picking experiences were with grandmother or my older sister Mary.

On these occasions Ma would awaken us at 5 am, -just in time to join my father and older brothers who had already had breakfast and were preparing to walk to the colliery. Ma always made a few extra pork chops to go with the homemade bread and apple butter. This was an extra special treat usually reserved for those providing for the family. It made us feel good to know that on that day the fruits of our labor would be enjoyed by all. We felt needed and it was a good feeling.

Since we would be walking over hills and sometimes rocky terrain, grandmother saw to it that we wore our old heavy shoes and stockings even though the fields and woods were very warm. Although we wore our oldest clothes, we still wore an older over- apron. Berry stains were impossible to remove. Even our old clothes had to look clean and fresh--it was a matter of pride!

After carefully braiding our hair she rolled a clean white cloth until it was an inch wide and tied it around our forehead. This not only kept our hair in places but also absorbed the inevitable sweat. Sometimes we were lucky enough to pass a spring. After drinking until we were about to burst, we removed our ''bandannas'' and soaked them in the ice cold water. Once tied in place, they afforded a welcome relief from the blazing sun.

Prior to entering the woods, grandmother would have us form a circle and kneel. We would then bless ourselves and bow our heads while grandmother recited her special prayer to guard us from snakes and other evils. Prayers said, we were ready to pick berries.

On one occasion grandmother wasn't with us. I was about eleven at the time. Marty and Dorothy, who was about six, had also joined us. My olden sister Mary was in charge and she had invited her friend Sadie.

This time we didn't stop to say our prayers. Sadie thought it was foolish and Mary who wanted to appear equally sophisticated in front of Sadie, didn't want to seem burdened by “such superstition” (Sadie's quote) We hadn't been at our task long before Sadie began to cuss and tell dirty stories. I was surprised, but it was Dorothy who spoke up ''The devil's going to get you for being bad and saying bad words.”

I agreed with Dorothy, “I don't want to hear your stories''. Mary also told her to hush.

It was Marty who spotted the snake coiled on a large gray rock. I froze in my tracks and desperately tried to recall grandmothers prayer- all of which proved impossible.

Mary's harsh warning to ''Run!'', awakened me from my failed attempt. Without another moments hesitation, I ran, -confident that my older brother would handle the situation.

Marty was fearless. He killed the snake and proudly displayed the long, limp, sinister creature. After that, even Sadie became a firm believer in the power of prayer.

We told grandmother what had happened, and she had me read, ''the prayer” from her big black prayer book, and recited it until it was firmly etched in my memory. Whenever grandmother wasn't with us Mary and I would lead in prayer. And pray we did. It didn't matter if others did not wish to join us. We knew what had to be done!