Mama held my hand tight as we approached the electric fence. We crouched down into the grass and she gave my hand a squeeze before letting go and sliding her body all the way flat against the ground. I watched her army crawl under the live wire, knowing that it would be my turn next. I knew about electric fences. I had gotten too close before. When I was five. The shock had thrown my tiny body through the air and I had landed unconscious for a few seconds before coming to. Mama and I used to pick up the “drops” from a big old apple tree that we passed on our way home from the grocery store and feed them to the horses down the road. That time, like this time, the risk was worth the reward.
Mama whispered even though no one was around. “Come on now, Crystal Fawn. Come slow just like I did and you’ll be alright.” I loved my mama. I would go anywhere she went. I would do anything she told me to do. Plus, I knew why we were crossing this pasture. The blackberries would be ripe now and there was a big patch up on over this hill.
I looked down at my clothes again to make sure I wasn’t wearing any red. This was the bull field and I could see them grazing between us and the patch of woods we were aiming for. We weren’t scared of ticks back then so the danger was only the current in the wire and the bulls. I was scared but in an exciting way- an adventure way. Mama swept her hand over my chest knocking loose the strands of hay clinging to my tee-shirt. I was allergic to hay back then. She gave me a mischievous smile, “Ready?”
It was hot hot hot. My hair was always wild back then. Thick and curly and mama did not know how to manage it. She had thin, stringy straight hair, but I had my daddy’s hair. And maybe some of my great-grandpa Walter’s. Now it was plastered to my forehead and a bead of sweat dripped off my curls and down into my eyes. It burned. I swiped the back of my hand across my eyes and focused my attention on the patch of woods, so close now. There were a few bulls nearby and they were big and fierce-looking, but they weren’t paying us any mind.
I looked up at my mom and grinned. “Ready!” We ran. My fingers throbbed in mama’s grip, and she about pulled my arm out of it’s socket, dragging me across that field. When we slipped into the safety of the trees, she finally let go and we fell into the dirt gasping to catch our breath. I don’t know if I started to giggle first or my mom but soon we were rolling on the ground laughing wild and free. I had never heard my mom laugh like that. Where was Tom this day? I can’t figure out how we got away on this little adventure without him. It was delicious. Just mama and me and the blackberries waiting for us.
Mama and I picked as many blackberries as we could carry. We dropped them one by one into plastic grocery bags that we brought. Some were getting mushed from the weight of the ones on top, but these were all destined to be pies so it didn’t matter all that much. I popped one in my mouth and then another and another and another. Blackberries were my favorite. They were my mama’s favorite too.
We didn’t run through the bull field on our way home. We were weighed down with bags of berries. We strolled down the hill with our treasure, arms and legs scratched and clothes berry-stained. Right past the bulls. Mama sent me under the fence first this time. I gently placed my bags at mama’s feet and slid under the wire. Mama carefully passed the bags of berries one at a time under the fence to me and when there were no more bags, she slid herself under the wire. That whole adventure had not taken us more than a hill away from our trailer and once we made it past the bulls and then fences and the thorns, it was all downhill to home.
That afternoon, mom and I drove into town to pick up my aunt Brenda, her twin sister. We went to visit Aunt Brenda all the time, but I can hardly remember her ever coming to our house. That is just the way it was. I guess because we had a car then and mama had a license. Aunt Brenda didn’t. She still doesn’t, actually. Plus, aunt Brenda lived in an apartment back then, not very big, but bigger than our trailer. This time is one of the few times I remember them coming to us. Mama and Aunt Brenda sat up front with Tara in the middle and the rest of us kids crammed into the back all piled on top of one another. This was before my younger cousin, Tara died. She was the baby of the family, not just the youngest of her siblings, but one of the youngest of many many cousins. We all still miss her terribly.
We drove the dirt roads slow all the way back to our trailer with all our heads banging together at every pothole. We didn’t have much space inside for company, but the thing about being rural poor is that there is often lots of space outside. Our trailer was at the base of a hill and there were just wide open fields between us and the creek. The older kids went off exploring but us younger kids crammed into the kitchen to help with the pies and listen in on grown people’s conversations. I was always attached at the hip of my mom and I loved to listen to the ruckus that she got into with my aunt Brenda. Mom didn’t have many friends, but when she was with my aunt Brenda, she was most fully herself. Once all the pies were assembled and just waiting to be baked, they got a game of cards going on the table and played hands between checking on the oven.
One by one, us kids got dealt into the game until the trailer was rocking with the chaos of us. It was hot as death in there too. there were just a couple small windows and that oven baking for hours and hours. So many pies to bake for all the relatives. Plus all the body heat from us kids was just too much.
“Everybody OUT!” My Aunt Brenda was pushing us all out the door. “Crystal Fawn that means you too! Out! Out! Out!” I did not want to go out into the night. I hated being away from my mom even for a second. Everybody used to always laugh about how “if you can’t find Crystal Fawn, just look behind her mama’s skirts!” I was always hiding out behind her, clinging to her as much for my own sense of safety as to tether her to life and to me.
It felt better outside. It was still hot, but fresh air hot instead of stuffy trailer hot. The porch was even smaller than the kitchen so we were even more cramped now, but none of us went farther than the stoop because there were bats zipping all around the porch flying in every direction. We sat there for the first time in silence and just watched them swoop and dive for mosquitos. It was beautiful.
When our moms finally came outside and the pie marathon was over, they were wiping tears from their eyes and laughing with exhaustion. We drove them all home over the bumps, heads still banging together and no one fought or pushed or shoved because everyone was too tired and filled up with pie. The next day, our phone rang and it was Uncle Bud.
“You gave me a pie with no sugar in it!” He wasn’t mad, just giving my mom a hard time. In the hectic pie assembly process, they had forgotten to add the sugar to one of the pies. They realized it later when they were cleaning up and found a cup of sugar left on the counter, but they didn’t know which pie didn’t have the ingredient!
Mom called up Aunt Brenda laughing, “Guess who got the sour pie?” and they laughed together about giving their big brother an unsweetened pie.