forced labor

I am pretty sure it was always somewhere around a hundred degrees outside, and we had at LEAST thirty bushes to pick between the two of us.

My mom would tell you that I am exaggerating.  If fact, she will chuckle and say all of this is exaggerated.  And maybe it is.

source: Jsanckenphotography

But it is what I remember.

It was the middle of the summer and it was hot.  My long hair was damp and clung to the back of my neck, my forehead, and my cheeks as I would stoop to get the berries from the lowest branches.

The ugly camouflaged hat of my dad’s did nothing to keep the deer flies from swarming around my head, but it did help them stay out of my hair.  Because no one wants to pick tangled, angry flies from their long hair.  Nobody.

It maybe wouldn’t have been so bad, but the bushes were so far from the house.  My brothers and I, buckets in hand, would trek down the path through the woods in our backyard out to the clearing where my dad had planted apple trees and blueberry bushes–the two fruits that completely Michigany.

The apples were to feed the deer.  The blueberries to feed the humans.

My brother also insisted on lugging along our little boom box so he could listen to Ernie Harwell call the Detroit Tigers’ games through the loud buzz of AM radio.

We would spend more time trying to find just the right spot to get the least amount of interference than actually picking berries.  Many times we would make our baby brother hold the radio and move around until it was how we wanted it.

Stand closer to that tree.  No!  Farther away.  Ok put one foot on that stump and hold the apple tree branch with the other hand.  Maybe if you put the antenna in your mouth.  STOP!  That is exactly perfect.  Oh quit crabbing.  You don’t have to pick.

Starting on different ends, we would go for the brilliantly blue ones first–the ones our dad warned us that the birds would pick off if we weren’t out here every day. The ones our baby brother would munch on if we didn’t put him on radio duty.

The ones we would pop into our own mouths so we could taste summer while we worked.

We didn’t say  much as we picked.  If anyone said anything, it usually resulted in arguing and someone storming off in tears to “tell”.  So we quietly listened to what there was to hear.

thud thud thud

Until the bottom was covered and the second layer of berries began.

Plop plop plop

The shuffle of bare legs in the tall grass as they moved around the bushes.

The occasional slap at a mosquito or deer fly on our legs and arms.

The rustle of blueberry bush leaves as our hands moved around them.

The relentless plopping of berries on berries.

And the strike of a baseball bat hitting a foul ball with Ernie letting us know that “the kid from Freemont caught that one.”

My parents still have those bushes, although when I venture back to the clearing there are only about eight bushes. My nephew loves to help my mom pick, and I wonder if Eddie will stain his hands and lips blue just like I did when I was younger.

This piece is did not come out the way it was behind my eyes…if that makes sense.  Concrit is welcome.Please vote for Sluiter Nation every 24 hours to help me with a grant that will get me to BlogHer and help Sluiter Nation do BIG things!

About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.


  1. Oh how I love me some Riemersma blueberries… in moderation of course. 🙂

  2. Actually, I love it. I love learning about other people’s lives – and learning that mine wasn’t the only full of pain, haha!

  3. I loved this. It was such a nice memory to have even though it is “forced labor”!

    I also must admit that it helped me with the direction I want to go with my post. I had been struggling with how to do mine, but now I have the perfect memory. Thanks! 🙂

  4. You reminded me of picking apples with my Mom in a field behind our house.
    I was only four, and I remember her slicing them to make a pie.
    You know, it may be the earliest memory I have!

  5. Tim@sogeshirts says

    Love those outdoor days with family. Some of the best memories. I’m sure Eddie will get blue lips from all those delicious blueberries.

  6. My favorite parts are those where you describe the sounds….that helps me picture the scene, since it’s not a familiar one to me. But you know what? I think that sometimes these memories are never quite captured the way we “see” them in our minds…never quite feels right…but the reader is getting a feeling and an impression based on your memory. It doesn’t have to be the same as yours, but you’re getting it across.

    Does that make sense? I think it’s wonderful.

  7. That was great! I think you did great and we could feel the sweltering heat and the exhausting job. I could picture being there 🙂

  8. Eddie’s gonna love it. Love it.

    And I love the radio duty bit. That just delights me.

  9. I remember picking blueberries. Ours were all shaded and grown as an afterthought and Pops and Granny fashioned metal pails with belt straps on them that we could hang around our necks. In my mind, that was just less distance for my hand to travel to my mouth.

    I still love blueberries.

  10. Child labour…it’s priceless…truly priceless 😉

  11. Oh, I love it.
    And now I want to slip into a white summer dress, and stuff my face with blueberries.

  12. I never did go blueberry picking when I lived in Michigan! But funny how we remember things, even thought we thought they might be miserable, we want our children to experience it since it will be fun!

    I hope Eddie does get blue!

  13. I could completely picture everything. Great job! Great details! I wish I could remember more moments like these from my childhood.

  14. Great post! We were always strawberry picking. What a fun memory to have and share with your brothers!

  15. I loved thinking about the Tigers on, and you slapping at mosquitos. It made it “real”.
    I swear I was there in that hot, messy backyard.

  16. I loved it, but I am biased, as I am from Michigan and have my own memories of listening to Ernie calling a game on a summer day.

    Concrit – I think the piece is strongest when you are using sounds and the relationship between you and your brothers. To me, the beginning gives a little more background information than you need, which isn’t exactly what I mean, but it feels a little forced. I think from the line about the apples feeding the deer and the blueberries feeding the humans, it’s just about perfect (so most of the piece, really)!

  17. I completely understand your comment about it not coming out the way it was behind your eyes. It is so incredibly difficult to get it on paper in the same way it is in your head. If it makes you feel better, I thought this piece was beautiful. I have never experienced what you wrote about but, I felt like I was right there with you, that I could see, hear, and feel the experience. What a sweet memory. Really well done!

  18. I too thought that the relationship between you and your brothers was where the piece was strongest. I thought these sentences were so good at pulling the reader into the moment and you showed us so much about you guys as a pack, ‘Stand closer to that tree. No! Farther away. Ok put one foot on that stump and hold the apple tree branch with the other hand. Maybe if you put the antenna in your mouth. STOP! That is exactly perfect. Oh quit crabbing. You don’t have to pick.’

    My only concrit would be, because you did such a good job of pulling us to that one moment, that one afternoon, the last paragraph where you jumped to the present felt really jarring as lovely as the sentiment was.

  19. When you wrote about flies in your hair I smiled. I could hear my mother yelling at my sisters about that kind of thing.

  20. And I’m so glad that this is how you remembered it- exaggerated or not!

    I loved the imagery, the scenery, the words that you chose.

    And damn if I’m not craving blueberries right now! 🙂

    I’d say your job is done here. Very well done. 🙂

  21. I’m pretty sure that your mom went and dug up some of those bushes 😉

    I loved this. Great details.

  22. Mmmm….fresh berries and child labor laws being broken. Awesome!
    Came, of course, from TRDC…

  23. I love how you wove the baseball into your story!! I could hear the game!! I liked it…I think you did very well! 🙂

  24. When I was a kid, my mom made us help her pick flats of strawberries from the u-pick fields. I warned her that she was breaking child labor laws.

    It’s a wonder I survived to adulthood.

    I have two tiny blueberry bushes that produce just enough to tease. I’m jealous of your “thirty” bushes.

  25. This reminded me of schlepping out to Beaumont to pick cherries…which was NEVER as much fun as we’d hoped. And still, we would try again the following June.

  26. Hmmm, I only have one blueberry bush. So far. I’m sure I will get more. You can keep the deer flies. The Mosquitos are bad enough.

    I love the radio duty! Sounds like something we’d have done to younger siblings.

  27. I understand what you mean about it looking different behind your eyes. This morning, I was trying to dictate an idea into the voice recorder before I lost it to oblivion, but the recording turned into me explaining to my 3yo what she could and could not have for snack!

    I love how the rhythm changes towards the end, letting the reader know it’s almost over. Very nice.