Some childhood memories and something from Sylvia Plath
When I was a little girl, I used to live in the country – downstate NY farm country in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. The house I grew up in rested between the homes of two elderly couples. A German couple, the Pojes, lived to our right. They had a great expanse of a side yard between their house and ours that was filled with apple trees which all of us kids used to enjoy climbing, much to my neighbors’ delight and dismay! Because I was the only girl amongst a bevy of rough and tumble boys, Mrs. Poje used to bring me inside her house and let me help her make applesauce in the fall! Mmmm – homemade applesauce! She would show me all her lovely tchotches and her really cool sewing room. I used to love to go there and listen to her tell stories in her warm, heavily accented voice, and if I close my eyes, I can still smell the way her house smelled – like lots of pies and love.
The couple who lived to our left were the Whites. Their house was rundown and their rickety front porch was always filled with “stuff”. They had a million cats, so I was always forever wandering over to their yard to get my cat fix. While I was never inside their house, I often used to chat with them when they sat out in their yard, and I remember them being the sweetest people you’d ever want to meet. The Whites had a cluster of blackberry bushes in their yard which grew right beneath a towering oak tree (which, coincidentally, in the late fall would often fill with black crows and freak me out, a la Hitchcock’s The Birds – a film which was a heavily featured selection on the 4:30 Movie at the time, but I digress…). I spent lots of time picking berries there and enjoying their sweet goodness, my fingers stained from the effort.
When I was young, I was often told I had an old soul, and I used to wonder if that was really something good or not. Did that mean I was trying to be too big for my britches? Or did it mean I was “stuck up”, as my grandmother described my mild reticence among other kids? Maybe it meant I was boring!
But when I think back on it, maybe it was just that I was a rather solitary young girl surrounded by boys (a younger brother and three male cousins who lived across the street) and elderly people. I guess I came to appreciate the quiet ways of my elderly neighbors, who in turn appreciated that I wasn’t breaking any of their windows or chasing their cats, and who enjoyed telling me I had an old soul (or maybe just a precocious vocabulary)!
Anyway, I came across this poem by Sylvia Plath, and it made me think of my lovely elderly neighbors, who are all long dead now, and the memories of them made me smile.
Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries,
Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly,
A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a sea
Somewhere at the end of it, heaving. Blackberries
Big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes
Ebon in the hedges, fat
With blue-red juices. These they squander on my fingers.
I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me.
They acommodate themselves to my milkbottle, flattening their sides.
Overhead go the choughes in black, cacophonous flocks –
Bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky.
Theirs is the only voice, protesting, protesting.
I do not think the sea will appear at all.
The high, green meadows are glowing, as if lit from within.
I come to one bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies,
Hanging their bluegreen bellies and their wing panes in a Chinese screen,
The honey-feast of the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven.
One more hook, and the berries and bushes end.
The only thing to come now is the sea.
From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me,
Slapping its phantom laundry in my face.
These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salt.
I follow the sheep path between them. A last hook brings me
To the hills’ northern face, adn the face is orange rock
That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space
Of white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmiths
Beating and beating at an intractable metal.