by Eamon O'Leary
cappuccino (no chocolate)
Mother loved picking blackberries, or blackas as we called them. At their best towards the end of August or early September, we’d keep an eye on the weather an’ the hurling. Yes, the hurling, cos if Cork were in the All-Ireland final, we’d be glued to our tellies on the Sunday, clappin’ an’ cheerin’ every time the Rebels scored, an’ jeerin’ an’ shoutin’ at the referee whenever a decision went against us.
“Hello Mam, the forecast looks good for pickin’ blackas on Saturday. I’ll collect you around two-ish.”
“Grand. I’ll be ready as soon as I’ve tidied up after the dinner.”
Mam never took to the new way of eating meals.
“Eatin’ yer dinner at nighttime; did ye ever hear the like of it? ‘Tis all them young wans with notions that started all this codology. I’m stickin’ to what I’ve always done. Breakfast when I get up, dinner at dinner time, an’ a boiled egg or a few cuts o’ bread an’ jam for de supper.”
Going for the blackas was as good as a holiday to Mam. She’d wear the flattest pair of shoes she possessed, but her choice was limited, as she was forever tellin’ us, “I was never one for the flat shoes. I always like a biteen of a heel.”
No matter what the day was doin’, she’d bring along her heavy tweed coat, the one bought years earlier in The Munster Arcade.
“’Tis a bit on de big side, but sure, I couldn’t let it after me, ‘twas a great bargain”, she’d informed us at the time.
However, the most important part of her gear was the billy-can, which, like herself, showed all the signs of a long life, well lived. I don’t know where she planked it, but it reappeared every year an’ she clutched it as if it was her favourite handbag.
Off we’d head, Mam talkin’ non-stop, startin’ off with the local gossip; who’d got married, who’d had a baby, an’ who’d passed away. Then she’d move on to de sca. What she’d heard about so-an’-so, an’ yer man down de road and more. She expected or thought I knew all these people, but it didn’t matter.
Carrigaline was the first stop where we’d enjoy a cone before weaving our way on towards Nohoval. I’d take it handy, till it was time to leave the tarry road behind us an’ crawl down the stony boreen - our boreen. The grass in the middle tickling the underbelly of the car. It felt as if we were expected. I’d park alongside the same rusted four-bar-gate, an’ we’d start. Mam with her billy-can an’ me with a Tupperware bowl.
In all the years we went, we never got to know the name of the townland. We were content to call it “our spot”.
Some things never changed. The biggest, juiciest blackas were always the ones up high, with battalions of nettles an’ brambles between us an’ them. Mam, with her coat comin’ down over her knees, stretched, reached, an’ picked as best she could, an’ wasn’t slow to rattle off a string or curses whenever a nettle or thorny bramble introduced itself.
When nosey cattle came up to the ditches, she would chat away to them as if they were long-lost friends.
“Fine an’ healthy, they are,” she’d tell me, “they’ll make a good price.”
We’d watch as birds feasted on hawthorn berries an’ marvel at nature’s beauty whenever we spotted a butterfly. We’d stroll, pick, an’ admire the views an’ smells of the countryside till Mam’s billy-can an’ my bowl overflowed.
Then it was time for our reward. We’d head for McCarthy’s pub.
“Hello. I’ll have a pint, please. What’ll ye have, Mam?”
“A glasseen for me, please.” This was Mam’s word for a half pint.
After taking a decent first sip, she’d rest the glass an’ lick the frothy moustache from her lips, like a child lickin’ an ice-cream.
Back at her house, she’d put the berries in the big saucepan along with sugar, a knob of butter, an’ the juice of a lemon. Leaving the lot to boil, Mam’d get down a small army of jam jars from the cupboard.
“I’ll give ‘em a quick rinse an’ dry ‘em in de oven. They say that kills all the germs.”
Once the jam was made an’ in the jars, she’d boil the kettle. We’d have tea, soda bread slathered with butter an’ a good dollop of de jam on top.
“We’d a great day, didn’t we?” Mam would say, licking the jam from her lips.
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