Blueberries

The screen door snicked shut behind me. It was a flimsy metal door, with an open screen in the top half, rattly metal in the bottom, and a hinged latch holding it in place when it was closed. I'd run into the bottom countless times while distracted, racing around the house, screaming and laughing, always startled at the clang I'd raise when I bumped into the door. Mum left the main door open to catch the summer breezes, propped open with a plastic wedge. For this part of the year, the screen door was all that stood between us and the mosquitos. But today, I was entering their territory.

The wooden steps thumped hollowly beneath me and Mum as I jumped down five steps from the level of the house to get to the ground. We lived in a mobile home, in a trailer park, next door to my friend Mike. All of these trailers belonged to air force NCO's, towed here from bases across the country and parked in a green lot just down the road from the base where my Dad worked. Ours was white with a green border around it, and a huge bay window, and lots of interesting space underneath it that I could get to by wiggling through one of the loose corrugated plastic boards that hid the wheels from prying eyes. That plastic was green too, it was like a skirt around the house. There were spiders and garden snakes and lots of dirt to roll around in and make trails in, and best of all, a place to hide when I didn't want to be found. I'd sit up against a wheel, hidden from idle glances through my make-shift door, and stifle my giggles behind a dimpled fist. When Mum was checking with the next door neighbour, I'd crawl out and run giggling around the yard, waiting for her to find me, and never ever tell her where I'd been.

Today, though, I wasn't going to run off, because we were going blueberry picking. I kept a careful hold of my bucket, I was going to be helping. But helping always meant that I got to eat some while we were picking, and that was the best part. We moved down our short walk of large paving stones set in the grass, skirting our garden (oh, the carrots we'd dig out of the ground, my favourite one so far was a twin with two legs), down to the packed dirt road that was the main street of the trailer park. There was hardly any traffic, but I was still not allowed this far by myself. The back road, behind a barrier of trees and only used in winter by snow mobilers, was fair game. I waved at Mike's house as we passed it, he was my honourary older brother, watching out for me during our adventures on the back road. He'd taught me how to climb a tree and to run from the bigger boys who nailed in pieces of board that let me tackle the hard trees and who hated to let anyone use their stuff, especially girls. But he wasn't coming picking with us today, it was just me and Mum. And hopefully not mosquitos. I'd been liberally smeared with repellent, and told sternly not to lick my fingers if I had to scratch at anything. The stuff around my neck was itching, so I wiggled my head around to try and scratch it without touching it, but soon gave up and dug my fingers into the crease by my ear. I glanced up at Mum, but she hadn't noticed, so I wiped my finger on my shorts.

We made our way past the rest of the houses between us and the hill at the end of the park, all very similar to ours, white with brown trim, or blue trim, or yellow. But I always knew ours, since Dad had been careful to match up our skirt with the border colour. Plus, my trike was usually in the yard. There wasn't a gate or anything at the end of the road, the packed dirt just gradually gave way to field and a small path that wound through a small group of trees separated from the back road's forest. The sun was warm on us, once we were through the trees, and the bugs were mostly leaving me alone, though already I had one nice big bite on my leg to show off later. Mum let go my hand now that we were of the road and I skipped ahead and off to the side as I spotted interesting things. There were lots of empty cans and cigarette butts around, I loved to see what was in them, tearing at the papers covering both until I could see the shine of the can or the shreds inside the cigarette. Mum would call me back each time I crouched down too long, and she got too far ahead of me. It wasn't a long walk before the field started to get steeper, and berry bushes started to appear. I stopped at the first one and started to fill my bucket.

"One for the bucket, and one for me. One for the bucket, and two for me. One for the bucket and three for me," I sang quietly.

"Annie!" Mum's warning rang out and I started over.

"One for the bucket, and one for me. One for the bucket, and two for me." I glanced over at Mum. "One for the bucket and two for me." She didn't seem to mind that, so I kept going. The blueberries were nice and plump and sun warm today. The bushes kept close to the ground, and there weren't any thorns, so I was able to find lots of them. I was very particular about clearing one bush before going on to another, I hated to miss any. Especially since the more I gathered, the bigger a pie Mum would make for me. I crouched down, pail between my scratched knees, and gave my little tree one last looking over, then, finding it truly empty, moved on to another random one. Mum kept an eye on me, making sure I didn't go too close to the steepest part of the hill, and there were a few other families out picking with us as well. The blue sky was many shades lighter than the dark blue berries, which were plumped out like pillows, but with a fringe on the one end. I was careful to take the stems right out, I hated to get them caught in my teeth, plus they were a bit bitter and ruined the taste of the berries. My fingers and mouth were stained blue by this point, and my bucket was starting to get a bit heavy. I tottered to a bush a bit closer where Mum was working to fill her second big bucket (she used empty ice cream buckets, since they had a metal handle, and a lid she could snap down). I decided to take a break, and plunked down in a clear space, bum first and then falling onto my back to gaze up at the sky.

A rumble started off beyond my feet, quickly growing into a familiar screechy roar. Two jets zoomed by overhead, the sound of their engines as normal a part of my day as the sound of Dad's car when he was turning into our driveway. We called them Voodoo's, and I knew that Dad sometimes worked on them, so I waved up at the pilots, even though I knew they couldn't see me. The boom caught up with them and then they were gone, off on another training exercise. They were flying too high to be landing this time around, Dad said that sometimes they'd do "touch and go exercises", where they'd touch down and take off again right away to circle back around for another go, and that always sounded like the best part to me. Dad and I played that game sometimes, his hands firm under my arm pits as he bounced me up and down, or he'd give me helicopter rides, round and round in a circle, my feet high off the ground. I watched them until I couldn't see even a glint from their wings, flipping over on my stomach as they passed, feet kicking in the dirt (carefully away from any berry bushes), and was content. A blueberry expedition wasn't complete until the jets flew by overhead.

Mum straightened up with a bit of a groan, one hand on her back as she stretched, the other holding her sun hat in place. I always lost my sun hats, she'd given up on making me wear them, and I much preferred slathering on lotion in any case - it was all goopy and white.

"Come on, Annie, time to head back," she said to me. I scrambled back to my feet and then carefully lifted the pail beside me. I didn't have a lid, but I never seemed to find enough berries to fill my bucket any way. Or at least not enough made it into the pail rather than into my stomach, but that was fine with me. Mum had one full bucket in each hand, but I knew that she'd be able to stack two of them into a tower on her hip and carry my bucket if I needed her to. I was getting better at carrying my berries farther toward home, I was sure I'd make it this time. We moved carefully down the hill, heading for the small path through the tall weeds, waving at the other pickers who were still working on their bigger buckets. Mum liked to come often, and I loved it too, so I didn't mind that our buckets were smaller. I kept my eyes on the path, fighting distractions, and being careful not to loose a single blueberry. Another pair of jets roared by overhead, and I stood stock still to watch them, not waving this time since my hands were both glued to the handle of the pail. I wish my Dad flew the jets instead of just fixing them, that's what Mike's dad did, but I would still run at Mike and hit him if he ever said that his dad was better than mine. It wasn't Dad's fault that his eyes weren't good enough, someone had to keep the planes in shape so they could fly around the world.

The sun went behind a cloud, and I shivered a bit in the cooling afternoon air. We were almost there, on the dirt road now, and I was still carrying the berries I'd picked. I put them down for a second and rubbed my hands together, Mum waiting semi-patiently for me. She would sometimes still offer to take them when I wasn't ready, but she'd usually wait and grab it when I'd put it down one too many times. This time I was determined to make it. I picked up the bucket one last time and walked faster. Then I saw Dad's car pulling into our driveway.

"Daddy!" I yelled, and began to run awkwardly. The berries were rolling around, sloshing up the sides of the pail, but I ignored Mum's yell to slow down. Daddy was home! The bucket was slowing me down too much, so I paused to put it down, looked over my shoulder at Mum, and saw her nod with a smile, and left it there to run freely into Daddy's arms. He swung me up into the sky, then gave me a big hug. Mum came up with the three buckets in a tower on her hip, and got a one armed hug from Dad as well. We climbed the steps together and the screen door clicked shut behind us.