The year was 1956. I was thirteen years old, racing my sister, Rosie, to the top of Blueberry Hill. We had wings on our heels, flying to the peak, where blueberry bushes would absorb our daydreams, as we hand-picked their berries one-by-one. We’d typically spend hours up on that hill, but that day in late July of 1956 had us filling our tin pans as quickly as we could. Come dusk, the Ford would be headed to the Karns City Drive-in, and we'd be broken-hearted if not buckled in its seats.
Rosie & Kathie
So we maneuvered haphazardly through the bushes, our legs scratched and bleeding. Our baths would sting come morning, but the taste of our mother’s blueberry pie would ease the pain, as we quoted our favorite lines from last night’s picture.
“My pan is full!” Rosie shouted, as she emerged from the bushes and into the sun. I had never seen someone pick blueberries so swiftly, while I still had handfuls to go. “Just hurry up,” she sighed and laid her body beneath the warmth of a clear blue sky. I could hear her humming “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino, which grew softer and softer as I made my way deep into the bush.
“I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill…”
I began to hum along, squishing fallen blueberries beneath my feet with every step.
“...on Blueberry Hill when I found you…”
Her voice was barely audible, until—
Snake? Did my sister just yell snake? I stopped dead in my tracks. There was nothing I feared more than a slithering snake obscured in the dirt.
“ROSIE?” I shouted, but she was already running down the hill, her pan full of blueberries abandoned where she had laid. I sprinted from the bushes and grabbed her pan before beginning the descent. We couldn’t just leave the blueberries on the hill!
“Rosie” I beckoned, “wait for me!” as heaps of blueberries popped from my pan and landed in the tall grass below.
I caught up with her mid-way down the hill, the threat of snakes still hanging from her panicked breath.
“You know you’re going to have to come back up here and pick those up,” she panted.
“No way,” I said, and defiantly tossed a handful from the pan into my mouth. They were pure deliciousness, a perfect combination of sweet and tart, and I grinned from ear to ear.
But Rosie wasn’t smiling. Her face read only terror. “Kathie,” she chided, “your tongue is completely blue!” I stuck my tongue out as far as I could to see for myself, and closing one eye, I spied the purplish hue at the tip of my tongue. If our mother couldn’t tell that I’d lost half my pan galloping down the hill, she’d certainly know I’d eaten them. I grabbed the sleeve of my arm and furiously brushed my tongue, but now the evidence, though muted, lived on my arm as well.
“You go ahead,” I cried, like a wounded soldier fit to die alone and knelt in the grass in search of every last berry.
Rosie hesitated. But the sky was growing darker by the minute and the cars would soon be lining up at the drive-in 2 miles down the road. If we didn’t make it in the Ford, it was a long hitchhike to Karns City to catch the last ten minutes of that week’s feature. And so off she ran, her tin pan expertly cradled to her chest.
By the time I arrived back at the farmhouse, the taillights of the Ford were but a mirage, and my sad, little pan held no more berries than it had before Rosie cried, “Snake!” The front porch greeted me with a sigh and the door groaned as I entered. My mother, Rose, was already rolling the dough and pushing the scraps aside for tomorrow’s fishing bait. I solemnly placed my pan beside the others and shuffled back to the front door as quietly as I could.
Rose stopped me at the doorknob. “You missed them,” she said. “The car left ten minutes ago.”
“Okay,” I muttered, my blue-tinted lips drawn in a frown.
“But Roy says he’ll take you on Goldie if you can hold on.”
I looked into Rose's eyes with delirious glee. What a sorry sight I must have been.
“He’s waiting for you by the barn.”
Roy and Goldie
I leapt at Rose and squeezed her tight, knowing she held the power of my punishment, and that somehow, this one time, I had escaped her gavel.
“Well run along,” she smiled. “But Kathie, tomorrow morning, it’s back to the hill.”
Tomorrow was another day, and until then, I wouldn’t sweat the incline, I wouldn’t fear the snakes, I wouldn’t worry what fish I was missing on the end of my line...because tonight…
I was riding Goldie to the drive-in with my big brother Roy.
The movie was just starting when Goldie found her way through the rows of cars, and Roy tied her to an open speaker post all the way in the back.
flashed across the screen in a western gold, as a dozen horses galloped to the beat of one conductor’s epic. Guns blazing, young men returned to their cars with popcorn and soda pop while Roy helped me out of the saddle. I’ll never forget the look on one girl’s face when her eyes wandered from the western to see Goldie standing right outside her window!
Roy and I stayed by Goldie’s side throughout the picture, feeding her grass and several berries I had hidden in my pockets. I didn’t even go looking for the Ford; I had everything I wanted on that little patch of grass in the very last row of the Karns City Drive-in.
That night, I scarfed down two slices of warm blueberry pie before bed. And I dreamed of Goldie. She galloped down a desolate path, dirt smoking from her hooves like gunpowder. And Roy was seated in the saddle, rocking gently at the reins. They raced toward me, Roy tipped his hat with a smile, and his name flashed across my eyelids in a western gold. If Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were stars, I thought, my big brother was a constellation.
Roy & Kathie
The year is now 2020. I’m 77-years-old, watching my granddaughter draw a landscape with chalk on the sidewalk outside my daughter’s house. I tell her it’s beautiful, and I love how she combined the blues for the perfect color sky. She asks me to add clouds when it begins to rain. Big giant teardrops start slow and then gather all around us.
“Wanna go see a movie?” I ask, and my granddaughter squeals about “the one with the dog that finds its way home.”
We race through the rain into the theater. We get our popcorn and a Slurpee and recline in the black leather chairs. The lights go down, and the first trailer lights our faces. My granddaughter is wide-eyed in wonder. She laughs at some animated monster, quieting only to take a sip of her blue-raspberry slush. She looks over at me and smiles and my heart melts entirely.
“Want some, Grandma?” she asks, and I take a giant sip. It’s pure syrup, a cold, sugary mess that almost instantly hurts my head. I grimace, and she laughs. Her tongue is stained a bright blue.
“Your tongue is completely blue!” I laugh, and she sticks it out as far as she can to see for herself.
The lights dim a little more as the feature film begins, and I’m wide-eyed in wonder. Not because of the movie, no; I won’t be able to recall what the movie even was...something about a dog that finds its way home…
All I can see is Blueberry Hill.
June 16, 1940 - January 13, 2020