Southern Folks: Learning patience with a blackberry pie

Bill Stamps
Bill Stamps

If it was summer in Tennessee and you opened my grandmother Miz Lena's aqua-blue Amana refrigerator, you were almost sure to find an old, dented, aluminum cooking pot with a half-broken black handle filled with fresh-washed blackberries. I picked them.

It seemed like every backyard and pasture fence had blackberries growing on them. They grew thick and wild. Sometimes the weight of the vines would swayback the fences.

I used to eat them right off the vine. Sweet and squishy. When you got up close enough, you could hear a deep-pitched buzzing sound. Bees! Honeybees and black-and-yellow bumblebees. Get too close, and they'd gang up on you. They were proprietary about their blackberries. There's an art to picking the berries without disturbing the bees. Pick too fast or too hard, and they'd run you off.

It took me about an hour to fill up that 2-quart pot. No problem. The big payoff for me was that Elizabeth, Miz Lena's housekeeper, would bake me a blackberry pie. I say me. Of course, the pie was for everyone, including my two younger brothers. But in my opinion, it was Elizabeth's and my pie.

Everything Elizabeth put on a plate was the best that I ever had. Fried chicken. Plenty-of-pepper pork chops. Her thin-cut fried potatoes and okra were superb. You'd never had a pie till you put a fork in one of hers. Especially her blackberry pie.

Anytime she was baking, I hung close to the kitchen. I'd sit at the glass-top kitchen table and color in my coloring book while Elizabeth rolled out the dough. She would hum. I think they were church songs. I'd hum with her. Then we'd laugh. She shook when she got tickled. She was always jovial, but particularly so when she was creating her rural cuisine masterpieces in Miz Lena's kitchen.

I forget how long it took for Elizabeth to bake the pie. Not that long. But the wait for it to cool was downright painful. I was around 5 years old. I couldn't contain myself. I kept walking up to the drainboard and taking big whiffs of those blackberries and that hot buttered crust through the white cotton cloth Elizabeth laid over the top of the pie. I was too little to see it, but I sure did smell it. Anticipatory fidgeting.

Elizabeth said, "Sweet boy, you is gonna have to hold on for awhile and lets the pie cool down. You go on outside and tend to Prince while I clean up in the back. In jus' a little bit, I cuts you off a little piece." Prince was my dog. My best friend.

After three or four times of me coming in the house, asking her if it had cooled, Elizabeth gave me a very small slice. It was still warm and fell apart in my hands. A small slice just wasn't enough.

One time, I slipped back in the kitchen. I could hear Elizabeth and Grand Mom in the back of the house talking over the vacuum cleaner. I had plenty of time. I dragged the stool from the utility room over to the stove. When I stepped up on it, I was looking directly down at the pie.

I pulled back the white cloth, and there it was. The temptation was just too much for me. Maybe just a little slice, and that was it. I didn't really slice the pie. I more or less scooped it with my hands.

I dipped in. A couple of handfuls for me and one more to share with Prince. Lay the cloth back over the pie. Pull the stool back and make my escape. I washed my hands and face with the garden hose. I was feeling a sense of accomplishment. A clean getaway.

Here came Elizabeth. Fast-stepping toward me. Big eyes. She said, "Child, Miz Lena want to sees you in the kitchen, right now, she say."

When I walked in, the gouged blackberry pie was sitting on the kitchen table. Grand Mom said, "Son, do you know anything about how Elizabeth's pie got like this?" I hate to admit it, but I implied that Prince might have had something to do with it. It kind of looked like a dog had gotten into it.

Miz Lena looked at me like I had lost my mind. She said, "Do you expect me to believe that Prince ate this pie? Whad he do, fly up there? Maybe we should put him in the circus. Let him go on the Ted Mack TV show. Wonder if he can talk, too? Maybe we should give him to a little boy who don't lie to his Grand Mama."

That's when I folded. For whatever reason, she didn't spank me. Maybe it was my on-the-spot silent prayer. Instead, she had me sit down at the table to have a little talk. I knew it was going to take a while.

Grand Mom said, "Looka here, you better not lie to me no more. Remember yore Ten Commandments! Thou shalt not lie to thee's grandmama!" She made a lot of stuff up. I didn't know that at the time.

Elizabeth was at the sink with her back to us. She raised one hand up to the Lord and whispered, "Amen." Miz Lena continued, "And don't forget, patience is a virtue, sayeth the Lord." Again, Elizabeth, her hand raised toward heaven, "Amen, uhm huh." Grand Mom said, "I'm gonna have a talk with yore Sunday School teacher. See if she has somethin' to hep you see right from wrong. Now, go on back outside. You ain't gittin' no dessert tonight."

Under Miz Lena's roof, you didn't leave the table until everyone had cleaned their plate. I had to sit there and watch them slowly eat and savor over their every bite of Elizabeth's blackberry pie. They really poured it on. They were almost moaning with delight. Especially Grand Mom.

After dinner, I was sitting out on the front porch steps with my head in my hands, Prince lying next to me. Elizabeth was leaving for the day. She walked over and handed me a paper napkin wrapped around a piece of blackberry pie. With twinkling eyes, she said, "Honey, dis here is for Prince. See if he won't share it wiff you."

Just another reason why I loved Elizabeth so much.

Bill Stamps spent four decades in the entertainment business before moving from Los Angeles to Cleveland, Tennessee. Contact him at or through Facebook.

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