Blackberry Summer


(Based on an experience from the author’s life)
Comfort all that mourn (Isa. 61:2).

It was a hot summer day as Tyler made his way toward the big fields a short distance from his house. As he tromped up the dirt road, he looked at the tall yellow weeds on either side and pretended for a moment he was a Nephite warrior, hidden by the high weeds as he crept up on the enemy.

Earlier that morning, his father had talked about heroes in the scriptures who performed great deeds to help others. He had said that everyone could perform noble and honorable acts of service. They didn’t have to be big or brave acts to be important, he had explained. “In Heavenly Father’s eyes, any act of selfless service is of much worth.”

“I want to do noble things, too, Dark,” he confided to the big black German shepherd that walked along beside him, dragging a small dog sled (travois). Tyler’s father had helped him make it. It consisted of two poles tied together at one end, which were placed over the dog’s back and secured. The opposite ends of the frame trailed along the ground behind the dog. The load to be hauled—in this case, a box filled with empty jars—was fastened between the poles.

When Tyler had walked deep into the field, he stopped, removed the sled, and lifted one of the jars from the box. He walked toward a jumble of brush on the ground, pulled it away, and stared down with surprise. Where was the old ladder he had hidden there? The ladder helped him climb out across the blackberry bushes and reach the berries that were otherwise impossible to reach.

“Who could have taken it, Dark?” he asked. “Who could have—?”

Suddenly he spied the ladder, laid out across a large bush. A closer look revealed that whoever had used the ladder had picked almost all the berries.

“Madden!” Tyler breathed angrily. “He knows I’m saving up to buy those cowboy chaps.” Tyler could already envision wearing the leather pant legs over his jeans—then he’d look like a real cowboy.

He sat down beside his dog. “Madden did it just to get even, boy, just because I told Mr. Ruggles I saw him swipe that ice cream bar from the store. I couldn’t lie to Mr. Ruggles when he asked me.”

He gazed at the sparse bushes. His family didn’t have a lot of money since Dad had gotten laid off from his job. If Tyler couldn’t make enough money from selling blackberries, he wouldn’t be able to buy the chaps. “There’s only one pair left, Dark,” Tyler murmured.

For a good part of the day, Tyler worked feverishly to fill the jars, not even stopping for lunch. As he reworked the already picked-over bushes, it took him a long time to fill each jar.

A while later, he looked up and noticed Madden pulling a wagon behind his bike. It was filled with cans of blackberries. He was selling them to Tyler’s regular customers! Tyler hurried even faster, dropping one of the jars and losing all the berries from it inside a huge bush. He wiped sweat from his hands onto his pant legs and fumed at Madden.

Dark lifted his head from his cool place in the shade as Tyler placed the final filled jar in the wooden box. He quickly attached the sled to the big dog. “Mrs. Gregory will buy all these jars of berries,” he realized excitedly. “Madden doesn’t know about her because she hasn’t lived here very long.” Mrs. Gregory loved blackberries and always paid Tyler 50 cents a jar. “I’ve got eight jars, Dark. If I add that to what I already have, I’ll be able to buy the chaps!”

As Tyler walked down the rutted dirt lane, his excitement grew. He turned a corner and stopped. Someone was helping Mrs. Gregory sit on her porch swing, and she looked very sad. There were four other cars parked in front of the weathered two-story house and almost a dozen people mingling about. If it was a family reunion, it must be a sad one, he thought. “Maybe we had better come back tomorrow, Dark,” he said.

“Something’s wrong down at Mrs. Gregory’s place, Mom,” Tyler said when he got home. “There’s a bunch of people there, and—” His mother’s serious face made him pause.

“One of Mrs. Gregory’s sons died. They’re having a memorial service at her house, then they’re going to the cemetery.”

“I was going to sell Mrs. Gregory my blackberries today so I could buy those chaps. But …” His voice trailed off. Then an idea came to him. It was something his father had said about doing honorable acts of service for others. At first he tried to ignore the thought, because he so wanted to buy the leather cowboy chaps.

His mother eyed him. “A penny for your thoughts?” she said.

“I couldn’t charge you for that, Mom,” he said, “any more than I can charge Mrs. Gregory for the blackberries.” Tyler stepped to the window and gazed out. “Don’t people usually come back to the house to eat after a funeral?”

“Often that’s the case,” his mother answered. “Why?”

“Well,” Tyler said, “there were a lot of people at Mrs. Gregory’s place. I know she isn’t going to feel like fixing a bunch of food. She’ll probably have help, but I’d like to help her, too.” He turned and faced his mother. “Mrs. Gregory likes blackberries even more than I do. I want to make blackberry pies for her and all those people.”

His mother’s eyes welled up with tears. “I know how badly you want those cowboy chaps. You’re willing to sacrifice them?”

“I want to be like the heroes in the scriptures, Mom, and help somebody.”

Tyler’s mother hugged him.

“If I squeezed a blackberry as tight as you’re squeezing me, Mom,” Tyler grunted, “it would be squished to bits.”

Tyler’s mother laughed. “Would you like a little help making those pies?”

“I was hoping you’d ask,” Tyler said.

Three hours later, Tyler stood before Mrs. Gregory’s door.

“Hello, Tyler,” she greeted, her voice warm but weary.

Tyler pointed to three freshly-baked blackberry pies in the wooden box on the dog sled. “I picked some berries, and Mom and I made some pies.”

Tears gathered in the old woman’s eyes. “How kind of you, Tyler. Just a moment, let me get my purse.”

“Oh, no,” Tyler blurted quickly. “They’re free, Mrs. Gregory. I just want to help.”

Mrs. Gregory bent over and hugged Tyler. He could feel her tears on his cheek. She didn’t say anything, just patted him on the back.

As Tyler walked down the dirt lane from the little two-story house nestled in the big trees and the evening shadows, he felt a feeling he had never felt before. It was warm, different from the warmth of the summer night.

When he finally had saved enough money to buy the cowboy chaps, they were gone—but the good feeling from having done a kind deed stayed.

[Service]

Elder Dallin H. Oaks

“If given in the right way and for the right reasons, … service will reward us beyond anything we have given.” Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “The Gospel in Our Lives,” Ensign, May 2002, 33.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Gerald Rogers

Ray Goldrup is a member of the Bennion 15th Ward, Bennion Utah Stake.