Favorite things Knee pads? Since he’d started the conversation, I was tempted to ask why he was wearing them.
“Any blueberries left?”
I answered that most were at the end of the rows, close to the highway. “Lady who owns the place told me that two busloads of students had picked earlier,” I volunteered.
Matronly, dressed in a long sleeve shirt and jeans, she’d stopped weed-eating long enough to ask whether I knew what to do and whether the noise her machine was making would bother me. She didn’t wait for an answer; nor did she remove the handkerchief she’d wrapped around her nose and mouth. Tight on her head was a baseball cap the color of dust.
“What kind are they?” asked the lanky man, about my age, but four inches taller.
I had no idea. “Not sure,” I replied, “but they seem to be sweeter than those,” I said, pointing at the Nice blueberry field across the highway.
“They are,” he said, sounding authoritative. “That’s why I come here.”
He continued talking, explained that he’d had a field like the one we were picking, but he’d sold it. “Now, I only have eight bushes.” He smiled. “My favorite varieties,” he said, “are Bluecrop and, um. Can’t remember,” he said looking down at me for help. His kneepads were strapped; he’d put on his gloves. He looked to be on a mission.
“Good luck,” I said, as if I were talking to a big game hunter. After weighing my berries, I slipped four dollars into the lock box for my two pounds.
For thirty or forty minutes, I’d picked and tasted blueberries at a recently opened commercial field across Highway 86 from the much older and larger Nice Blueberry patch. Nice features bushes that are eight to ten feet tall with long rows dense as a maze that a child could get lost in. Until the much smaller field opened, that’s where I went to pick.
Nice had just been bought by some nice folks from Alabama. “We missed the time to prune,” she’d told me, apologetically. I’d noticed; a few of the rows I’d had to squeeze through. Her bushes were that big, well, that over grown. That concerned me; last month, I’d been stung by bees when I reached too deeply into a bush. Even so, now that I knew the varietal difference explained why these were less sweet, I understood that the Nice blueberries were a later variety.
For two to three weeks after the other field was finished, Nice would still have berries. That’s what I thought as I drove away. Hot and sweaty and hungry, I headed for Hillsborough and Matthew’s chocolate shop to cool off and to purchase a few dark chocolate dipped pineapple slices.
I’m a regular at Matthews.
“What can I get you?”
I pointed at the pineapple. “Is Mebane far from here?” I asked.
“Ten or twelve minutes,” she said, “turn left on Highway 70.”
I told her I’d heard it was a neat place, another little town like Hillsborough.
“Getting to be that way,” she said. “A woman who owns a few buildings in downtown Mebane wants Matthew to open a chocolate shop there.” She shrugged, as if to say she didn’t know whether he would. His shop in Hillsborough had only been open a year and he’d already expanded.
You never know, I thought to myself. Maybe, as she suggested, Mebane would soon be the next Hillsborough. Maybe Matthew would go there, and would offer different varieties of chocolates. That would make the trip worthwhile.
“Just turn left on 70?” I asked as I pointed toward an intersection less than a mile away. My question was rhetorical, asked only to confirm a decision I’d just made.
She shook her head yes.
“See you soon,” I said, knowing I was about to drive to Mebane, hoping I might find another blueberry field along the way.
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