By Norris Chambers


            We got our first wind-up phonograph in 1926. There were several kinds of players in use then but ours was one of the latest models featuring the new standard revolving speed of the turntable, 78 revolutions per minute. There was a song on either side of the disc and a speed control knob for the turntable. The small variable speed control also changed the pitch and allowed musicians to adjust the recorded musical key exactly with the one they were playing.  Any sort of recording was a novelty in those days. We enjoyed the phonograph for several years and managed to buy new records occasionally. Battery radios were available at that time but we did not get one until the middle thirties.

            Our record collection included most of the old favorite songs of the pioneers, Little Brown Jug, Golden Slippers, Yankee Doodle, Dixie and Preacher and the Bear. We also had newer songs such as The Death of Floyd Collins, Sinking of the Titanic and most of Jimmie Rodgers’ songs.

            The title of one of these old songs was Ben Dewberry’s Last Ride. When I first saw the record I hadn’t heard of the train wreck and I wondered how a man named Ben could be involved in a last ride with dewberries. Even at our young ages Clifton and I were familiar with dewberries. We didn’t know much about train rides since the old Model T Fords or horses provided what transportation we needed. We did understand dewberry jam and fresh dewberries with cream and sugar. We knew that there were several jars of canned berries resting on the shelves in the cellar just waiting to be served to two hungry angels! Clifton and I were the angels I had in mind.

            As we gained a little age we began to understand where dewberries came from. They grew wild in several areas of the pasture and as winter came on the nice, juicy berries began to ripen and sweeten and it was time for berry harvest to begin. The berries resembled blackberries in size and color but most folks thought they had a better flavor. Although the berries were free the harvesters usually paid a price in torn skin and snake-watching tension. The fruit grew on patches of tangled vines and the leaves and stems were covered with little thorns and stilettos that seemed to seek out the hands and arms. If we were still barefoot from the summer we were likely to get some painful agitation around the top of the feet and the ankles. It was necessary to be on constant watch for rattlesnakes, moccasins and other dangerous snakes. I don’t know if the snakes ate berries, liked the smell or just thought it was a good place to be, but something about the dewberry vines seemed to attract them.

            When our buckets were full we returned to the smokehouse area and the berries were thoroughly cleaned. This was a tiresome and time consuming operation but was necessary because every kind of small, unwanted insect or particle of trash seemed to bed down between the small crevices that covered the outside of the berry. The next step was to eat a big bowl of berries mixed with fresh cream and sugar. Dewberry jam on a hot buttered biscuit was a real treat. After that we had berry cobbler for a day or so the remaining goodies were properly canned for later use. We usually gathered berries three or four times in order to preserve enough for the ensuing year.

            We had a long row of blackberries in our garden section and they were used in a similar manner. Most of the old timers preferred dewberries because of their superior flavor. The blackberries were easier to gather. The vines were larger and stronger and in many ways resembled bushes. Most of the berries could be gathered from a full standing position and the thorns were larger and easier to avoid. They did not collect as much small trash and were easier to clean. They were eaten in the same manner as dewberries.

            Was there fun in harvesting dewberries? As usual, Clifton provided a little innocent amusement when he jumped to escape from a small snake and was quickly captured by the thorny vines of a dewberry plant. We spent considerable time getting him out and he complained every time we moved a vine. He said we were deliberately dragging the thorny throngs across his legs! We wouldn’t do that – even for fun!