Chuck Mack: 'Thank you, mom'

This story is about chokecherries and serviceberries so I'm going to start it out with part of a poem I that I wrote one time.

What are serviceberries? Well they're something like blueberries,

And they're really good to eat.

Some people call them sarvisberries, but no matter what you call them, when they ripen on the bush, they're really very sweet.

"What are chokecherries," you say, "and do they really make you choke?"

Well, I won't say they make you choke, but I know they pucker up your mouth a lot,

And that's no joke!

But, really, when they're really big and black, these too, are kind of sweet.

In fact, I'll go so far as to say they're really quite a treat!

When I was a little kid, back in the Ol' P.K., each summer, for a few short weeks, I was able to enjoy the wonderful taste of these berries. Isn't it strange how some things stick in our memories so vividly, that they last our lifetimes? It's been well over half a century, but still, every time I eat a serviceberry, if I think back, and close my eyes, I can see my Mom, sitting at the kitchen table, painstakingly picking each stem from the berries, then mashing them up with a fork, and putting them in a bowl, then straight out of the can, add a little bit of Columbine Evaporated Milk, then sprinkle on a little sugar. Gee, that tasted good! Being in a large family, which by any standards, were poor, something like that was considered a real treat.

I remember the labels on the Columbine Milk cans. They had coupons on them. One of the fun jobs I had, as a little kid, was cutting out these coupons. I had to be careful to not ruin any. To us, they were as valuable as gold. Lots of our household items came out of the Columbine Premium Catalog.

Getting back to the berries, the serviceberries were more than just a treat to our family. They were one of the basics. Not only did we eat a lot of them in season, Mom made jam and jelly out of them, and canned lots of them for making pies and other desserts. Some were dried, and used like raisins.

Chokecherries were also put to good use. Lots of jam and jelly were made from them, and lots of juice was canned. The juice could be used to make more jelly out of, in case there wasn't enough sugar around the house when the berries were in season. The juice could also be used to make what I consider a real treat. You take some homemade dumplings and cook them in sweetened chokecherry juice. They do turn an icky green color, from the reaction of the acid in the berries, and the baking powder in the dumplings, but despite the funny color, it does make a tasty dessert!

The banks and hillsides along Wolf Creek had lots of chokecherry and serviceberry bushes, so there were plenty of berries to be had, if the frost didn't get them first. Ol' Jack Frost was a real concern to us, back then. Mom and Pop always raised a big garden, and Mom canned all the vegetables for future use. We always raised all our potatoes, so if we lost even a part of our crop, due to a frost, it might mean some hungry times around our house, before the next summer, and a new crop.

I have said this before, and I will probably say it again, growing up I do not ever remember going hungry, for the life of me I can't even start to imagine how difficult it must have been for Mom and Pop to keep food on the table. Gosh during the summer months when the mines weren't working they're just wasn't any money, and I don't recall of any credit account at the company store. But those were different times then we know today, and I guess back then people had more of a survival instinct.

We all know what kids can do, right? Well one of the things some of us Mt. Harris kids would do, just for the lack of anything more exciting, was to gather around a big chokecherry bush, then eat chokecherries, seeds and all, until we either got the runs or sick at the stomach. It made little difference from which end, the bet was to see who could leave the longest trail of seeds! Does this sound terrible? Well, gee whiz, television hadn't been invented yet, so we couldn't sit around the house watching violent movies, and in Mt. Harris, hallucinating drugs were unheard of, at that time. We were just being as violent and silly as we could be, with what we had to work with!

It's been a long time since I was a kid, in the Ol' P.K., but you can bet your boots that, every summer, when the serviceberries ripen, I "pig out" on serviceberry pie. My wife, Alberta, can bake the most yummy serviceberry pie imaginable. She also makes muffins and bread, using them, and they're just as yummy. Of course, she makes jam and jelly, and cans a few jars, so we can have an occasional pie, out of season. Yes, she even makes me some of those good tasting "icky green" dumplings, now and then, but still, whenever I eat these berries, my mind goes back to that little tar paper shack that sat along the bank of Wolf Creek, in the Ol' P.K., Mt. Harris, U.S.A., and Mom!

I know I never thanked her then. Mom passed away many, many, years ago, but Mom lives on, if only in my memory. So what else can I say, except, "Thank you, Mom, for everything, but especially for those serviceberry and canned milk treats, that you so painstakingly fixed for me!"

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