July is Blackberry Picking in the Midwest

Blackberries 1024

The extreme heat of this July has resurrected memories of blackberry picking of my childhood. Long before I ever picked my first berry my mother had spent many a summer in the county of her birth picking the deep purple, luscious fruit with her mother and siblings. Most likely out of need, the Schwegler family would travel to Maries County, Missouri where they would visit with family. In July, when the fruit ripened, they would don their “picking” outfits and go to their favorite thicket of bushes and spend several hours filling their buckets to the brim. Long-sleeved shirts and pants were called for or long, angry scratches were the result of reaching into the brambles for those plum morsels of blackberry goodness. After the trek, hours were spent in the kitchen brewing jars of blackberry jams and jellies that would last into the next year.

 My family spent many summer weekends traveling to Osage County where my grandfather, Wright Schwegler, had a clubhouse on the Gasconade River. My mother continued the tradition of picking blackberries. And oh how I hated that tradition. I can’t think of anything worse than putting on long sleeves and pants and hiking in the heat of July. Our picking crew consisted of my mom, my brother Bill, and me. My dad would drive us to the same location every year since my mom didn’t drive. We would hike up a long hill to a massive thicket of Blackberry brambles hiding their jewels among their thorns. By the time we would get there, I would be soaked in sweat; not a comfortable feeling for a city-bred, teen-aged girl. No matter how hard I tried I still wound up with long slivers of red scratches on my arms, despite the long-sleeves, and my hands were covered with wounds from the long thorns of the bushes. I don’t ever recall my mother making jams or jellies so we must have eaten the fruit over the course of the next few days.

 Some of my best memories of those days at the clubhouse include warm salads made with fresh greens and tomatoes picked from my grandfather’s garden smothered in Viva Italian dressing. A short walk up the road would result in fresh ears of corn to be boiled and slathered with butter. And best of all, catfish tails from the fish caught on the trotlines from the night before were covered in corn-meal and deep-fried to golden perfection. My brother and I weren’t allowed to eat the other meat of the fish; it had to be the tails since my mother was afraid we would choke on the bones from the other parts of the fish. There were many things we weren’t able to do, which is a testament to my mother’s will to see us safely through our childhood.

 Unfortunately, the tradition of blackberry picking wasn’t passed on to my sons. Today, if one wants, you can have blackberries on the menu most days as they are grown all over the world and shipped to the United States for consumption. I’m not sure the blackberries we get today are as good as those picked straight from the source, but they sure are easier to come by. And despite being uncomfortable, I still have fond memories of those days so many years ago spent with my family in pursuit of blackberries ripened in July.  

 

Happy Birthday Bonnie Lane

Today would have been my mother’s eighty-ninth birthday. She broke my heart when she left me on that twenty-ninth day of June in 2002.

Schwegler, Bonnie Keep

Mom and her String of Fish

My mom was a little, spunky woman who could cuss like a sailor. I suppose that is because she had nine brothers. One summer weekend when I was about ten or eleven, my brother Bill and I were fishing with my mom at my grandfather’s clubhouse on the Gasconade River. Bill and I were standing on the bank fishing with our poles and bobbers. Mom was sitting in the Jon boat fishing with a rod, reel, and sinkers; no bobber for her. When we fished with mom and dad, they spent a lot of time putting worms on our hooks and getting our lines untangled. How they had the patience I’ll never know.

Mom was a good fisherman. I’ll never forget the day when she caught a fish and was reeling it in. Suddenly she stood up and started hitting at something with her rod. She was cussing a blue streak the whole time saying, “You S.O.B., you’re not getting my fish.” (S.O.B. is the abbreviated version of what she really said.) At least I think that’s what she said. I was too shocked to really take in all of what she was saying because, to my horror, I saw the head of a water moccasin raising itself up out of the water coming after the fish on the end of her line. Its mouth was wide open so I could see the white lining of its mouth. That little lady stood her ground and beat the snake back and successfully pulled the fish into the boat.

I guess S.O.B. was one of her favorite words. I surmise that because when I was five years old we were driving to visit my grandmother and grandfather. I was sitting in the back seat between my mom and dad talking to them when a large truck came along side of us, which scared the life out of me. My reaction was to blurt out, “You S.O.B.” My mother turned to me and said, “What did you say?” I repeated my salty words. I learned that day that I was to do as my mother said, not as she did.

Lane, Bonnie Keep

Mom was tough as nails. She made us play outside in all weather but rain. She was a stern disciplinarian. But I never felt she was unfair in her discipline. She wasn’t one for church, but encouraged us to go to church with friends if they asked. She had a spiritual side; she introduced me to the writings of Norman Vincent Peale. She was my mother, but managed to parent while being my friend. We didn’t have much money, but she made sure we had what we needed. And she always, always put us kids before herself.

Happy Birthday Mom!

Harrison Wright Schwegler

One hundred and twenty-two years ago, on November 14, 1892, Harrison Wright Schwegler was born most likely in Maries County, Missouri. He was one of six children born to Julius Schwegler and Sarah Frances Ridenhour. Our family called him Wright.

On February 27, 1914, Grandpa Schwegler married Belle McKinney. He was twenty-one and she was eighteen. From this marriage came August, Oma, Harley, Willard, Roy, and Frank. The children were born about two years apart. Unfortunately, at the age of twenty-seven, Belle died on February 3, 1923 of double pneumonia.

Moving quickly my grandfather married my grandmother Estella May Burt. As I mentioned in the story about my grandmother, this was most likely a marriage of convenience. My grandmother had a daughter Goldie prior to her marriage to grandpa. And grandpa had six children who needed a mother. They married on May 25, 1923 just a little more than three and a half months after the death of Belle.

From this marriage was born Joseph, Bonnie (my mother), her fraternal twin Betty, Ollie, Billie, Janice and Earl. Billie died at the age of two. Their first child was premature and died shortly after birth. Grandpa was thirty-one and Granny was twenty-nine when this first child was born. Grandpa was forty-three and Granny forty-one when their last child was born.

Schwegler, Harrison Wright

Harrison Wright Schwegler

Grandpa was short in stature. His Word War I draft registration record stated that he was short, of medium build, and had blue eyes. He farmed in Maries County until sometime around 1930 when the census record showed the family living in the third ward in the City of St. Louis. Between 1931 and 1940 he was listed as a laborer in St. Louis directories. In 1940 he was listed as a setter for a tile installation company. Many of his sons followed him in this trade

My earliest memory of Grandpa is when I turned five. We were visiting my grandparents around the time of my birthday when Grandpa took me to buy a dress for my birthday. The dress was pretty, but I remember vividly what happened after the dress was purchased. Grandpa was fond of drink to put it mildly. On our way home we stopped at the local watering hole. While he had a beer – or maybe more, I can’t remember – I ate popcorn out of a coffee filter. I had a great time. It didn’t seem like we were gone long but when we got back to the grandparents home, well … words were said and I knew my Mom was mad. Needless to say we never went dress shopping again.

My grandpa was half Swiss. German was most likely spoken in his father or grandfather’s home. He had a clubhouse on the Gasconade River in Osage County, Missouri. Fishing was his passion. We spent just about every weekend with him from the time I was eight until about fourteen. And yet I don’t remember ever having a conversation with him. Oh he spoke to us but usually when he was showing us something, explaining how something worked, or when we were doing something we shouldn’t. He was a man of few words.

I didn’t see my Grandpa after I turned fourteen. He and my grandmother were having problems and he had moved out of the house. I never understood why we quit going to his clubhouse until years later when I asked my mother why. Apparently he had a girl friend and my mother didn’t want me influenced by his living arrangements. From what I understand Grandpa and Granny divorced after they were married fifty years. How sad.

Grandpa Schwegler in his jon boat.

Grandpa Schwegler in his jon boat.

Grandpa died January 28, 1978. Even though I really didn’t know the man, I have fond memories of the times we spent with him on the Gasconade River. There is nothing like running through corn fields, eating a salad with fresh tomatoes warmed by the sun, learning how to skin a catfish, and generally running wild in the out-of-doors.  For these experiences I am eternally grateful.