Shane taught me to climb the old Mulberry tree behind Grandpa’s barn where Grandpa worked on his lawn mower and hung fish heads from nails as trophies of the summer. Shane knelt down like a soldier about to be knighted and I used his thigh as a step stool to reach the lowest branch. Our knees and elbows stung from brushing against the rough bark of the tree but it was worth it to taste those watery purple berries. We turned our shirt tails inside-out to catch fruit from the branches above and the perfectly ripe berries dropped from the branches with just a gentle shake.
Visiting Grandma and Grandpa’s house was a regular summer event. It was a time when cousins from different school districts got to know one another again. It was the richest place I knew even though they lived in a mobile home on rented land. There were fruit trees everywhere, and a pond full of frogs. We saw snakes and chickens and just down the road, a hog wallow brimming with salamanders and dragonflies.
Shane and I filled our shirt tails with berries and leaned back against the trunk of the tree on our respective branches to enjoy our plunder. From our perch, we heard Grandma working in the garden pulling weeds. She hollered at Roscoe, the beagle to, “quit that digging,” and though we couldn’t see her from behind the barn, we knew she was wearing her straw hat and picking worms from the tomato leaves with her glove-covered hands then pitching the bugs to the chickens. This was a ritual we had witnessed before and we respected her diligence. We stared at the clouds through the shady filter of green while savoring our snack with purple fingers and lips. And then we heard her say it, under her breath, “Lord, I hate Mulberry trees.” Shane and I stopped chewing our berries and stared at one another wide-eyed. Shane spit a mulberry stem from between his teeth to the ground, a skill I had not yet acquired. ”Why does she hate Mulberry Trees?” I whispered to Shane. He was older than me by two years and so by default the wise one. He stared back at me silently, as was his way, and then shrugged his shoulders. He tossed a Mulberry up in the air and caught it on his tongue and the conversation was over. It was a mystery.
Yesterday, I poured a bottle of vinegar over a tree stump that just keeps coming back in my garden. A stubborn tree seed has taken hold in my garden’s fence row and though I cut it back each spring is now forcing the pickets to fall off my fence. I read somewhere that vinegar would take care of it and figure it’s worth a try. As I pour the acrid liquid over the exposed roots, I whisper under my breath, “Uh, I hate mulberry trees.” And just like that, the mystery is solved.