Blackberry Millionaires


They stopped beside a wild blackberry bramble on a two-lane road leading into Guerneville, a small town along the Russian River. It was mid-summer in California and the ripe berries called to them from beyond the barbed wire fence.

I waited for them at a holiday cottage, listened for the sound of a car pulling up outside, puttered with potato salad and ham sandwiches. They were late. I did not know why. I worried.

Eventually the warm hum of my sister’s car signaled they’d arrived and I went to greet them. My son burst past me with a small box in his hands. “Where’s the refrigerator?” he shouted, charging into a bedroom, turning, bursting back into the living room, frantic.

“In the kitchen!”

Where else would it be? I huffed to myself and followed him. My sister appeared with luggage in hand and followed us into the kitchen, dropping her load in front of the stove.

“We can make millions!” my son shouted, waving his scratched and bleeding arms. “Let’s go back and get more! Let’s sell ’em!” My sister laughed and ran water in the sink.

I realized then my son had been bitten by an abundance of blackberries, acres of the fruit ripening on twisted tangles going to waste in the sun, that he’d been seduced. He’d been sucked in by the idea of scooping up free berries by the handful and bringing them home to share, to sell, to brag about like a fisherman with a trophy catch, by dreams of wantonly fingering piles of easy money.

I know the lust of being in the brambles, of the delectable fruit dangling just beyond reach, of wanting to pluck just one more big one. We used to pick blackberries in late summer when I was a kid, laying long boards against the thick canes, pressing the narrow planks into the brambles, inching along the wobbly platforms to access the deepest, richest parts of the patch.

I know the allure, have succumbed to the hunger. I also know about wearing long-sleeved flannel shirts, jeans and boots in the heat of the day to protect from the thorns. I know the peril of falling into the tangle, of lying still until help arrived to carefully pull me out, thorns cutting like razors, tattering my clothes, ripping my skin. I know now it’s not easy to become the blackberry millionaire I once chased in my fevered greed.

I didn’t pierce my 9-year-old’s euphoric bubble, not that afternoon, didn’t explain the perils of unbridled capitalism, the cruelty of sharks and dog packs, exploitation of the poor, the ruthless passion for more. Instead, we ate sandwiches and potato salad. Later, my sister made a berry cobbler for dessert and we talked about what we’d do with our millions.

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