Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Tree

“I’m ready to go!” June announced at 4:30 on Friday afternoon. Her episode of Arthur was over and I’d just finished reading a few chapters of The Eleventh Plague to Noah. I’d said if it wasn’t raining too hard after her television, we’d go pick mulberries.  I realized even as I said it that “too hard” was a bit subjective and squishy. It was raining, more than a drizzle but less than a downpour so I decided to carry on with the plan.  The kids and I found shoes and umbrellas and June grabbed a newspaper sleeve for her harvest and we left.

June had noticed a few days earlier that the mulberries that grow on trees all over Takoma were ripe and wanted to go pick some but I convinced her to wait until Friday so Noah wouldn’t have to do homework and could come with us. We could have gone in any number of directions to find ripe mulberries, but of course we went to the tree that grows near Starbucks.  There’s a supermarket in the same shopping plaza and we needed milk so it was a multi-purpose outing.

There are actually two mulberry trees on the way to Starbucks. We stopped at the first one, which grows on the lawn of an apartment building.  The branches were too high for June to reach, so Noah lifted her, but the grass was wet and slippery and they were a little unstable. I clambered up the small rise to help and ended up falling and sliding down it, muddying my pants.  I suggested we try the other tree.

This one had lower branches and we all picked berries until there was a respectable pile at the bottom of the plastic bag. June was eating them too and soon her chin and shirt were stained with the purplish-black juice.  I ate a few, too, just to be in the spirit, although they don’t have much taste. If you’ve never tried them, imagine eating blackberries with a really bad head cold. Every now and then you do get one’s that’s sweet but mostly they’re pretty bland.

Once June could be persuaded to leave the tree, we headed into the supermarket.  This particular market is always an adventure and it did not disappoint. Just as we got to the checkout line with our half-gallon of organic 1% milk, all the registers shut down at the same time.  Some kind of computer problem, I think.  I didn’t entirely follow the bilingual discussion between customers and cashiers. Just as I was about to give up on the milk and leave I noticed there was a working register at the customer service desk. We switched lines. It turned out they couldn’t handle a debit card there and I had exactly one dollar in cash but by that time the other registers were working so they let me return to the front of the line I’d abandoned. No one in that line seemed out of sorts about our intrusion. In fact, only one person in several lines had been vocally impatient for the registers to come to life. Maybe it’s a common occurrence there.

“Success! ¡Éxito!” I exclaimed as we headed for the doors, milk swinging in a bag at my side.

And then June said, “Does anyone know where the mulberries are?”

I looked at her. She was carrying her umbrella, but no thin plastic bag with its cache of mulberries.  We checked to see if we’d left it at the low brick wall outside the market where we’d paused to fold up our umbrellas.  Nope.  We went back into the store and re-re-traced our steps, back to the dairy case, to both the lines where we’d waited, to the displays of snacks the kids had examined while I was in line.  Nada.  I told June I thought someone had probably already found the bag and thrown it in the trash.  I said we’d stop at the tree again on the way home.

As we walked to Starbucks the kids looked at all the new businesses along the strip.  For a long while during the recession and its aftermath one business after another there was shuttered so I’m glad to see it filling back up, even if it’s with big chains. (The businesses that closed were mostly chains, too.) There’s a Chuck E. Cheese that opened last month and which June has wanted to visit every since she mentioned to her classmates she’s never been to one and they were all amazed and aghast. There’s also a Fro-Zen-Yo under construction and once it opens we might just take June to Chuck E. Cheese if there’s frozen yogurt in it for us afterward. There’s also a Little Caesar’s that opened last fall or winter.  It’s take-out only and we used to drive by there after basketball practice frequently and bring home pizza.

Noah suggested we get pizzas there and bring them home as it was pizza night but between us we had three umbrellas, a half-gallon of milk, and we would soon have Starbucks leftovers and a new bag of mulberries so I said no. I would have been awkward anyway carrying pizza boxes a mile or so home even if we’d been empty-handed. (This did not stop Noah, however from suggesting it again when we passed by again on our way home.)

After fortifying ourselves with coffee, milk, juice and pastries, we returned to the tree.  June had only picked a few berries when she noted that the paper bag from Starbucks was getting soggy.  This wasn’t surprising as the berries were quite wet.  I decided not to risk letting it get so wet it fell apart and limited her to a handful of berries.  Besides, it was getting late, and even though we were just having frozen pizza for dinner, I did need to get the oven pre-heated, so with only fifteen berries in the bag, we left.

On the way home we sang, “Pop Goes the Weasel” and discussed why the song goes “All around the mulberry bush” when mulberries grow on trees.  I speculated that maybe they also grow on bushes, but I looked it up when we got home and they don’t.  (Wikipedia notes the original wording of the song was “bramble bush.”) Later I realized there’s also a mulberry bush in that nursery rhyme, “Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush,” too. I have no idea what’s up with traditional songs and this fictional bush.

I washed the berries for June when we got home and she ate her meager stash in one sitting.  She seemed pleased with the expedition.  She wanted to pick berries and that’s what we did, never mind the rain or the mud, the hassle at the supermarket, or the loss of the first harvest.  So often she’s like that, set on a goal and then satisfied at its completion.  As someone with a tendency to brood over the past, I have to admire that. She does worry about things sometimes of course, we all do. But more often she lets the monkey keep chasing the weasel and she goes home happy, with her fifteen berries in a sodden paper bag.