Sweet, wild berries plucked from roadside patches are a delightful side benefit of camping. Each summer, my husband Bob and I would send the kids off with their little metal buckets and the next day we would all enjoy the fruits of their labor: raspberry pancakes turned on the grill or firm blackberries to dot a hot cooked-on-the-campfire peanut butter sandwich.
The children looked forward to picking. We could usually find just about anything, from blueberries in early summer to raspberries and blackberries in August. Every year - except one.
"There's nothing around here to pick!" five-year-old Julie complained, poking a stick into the dying fire one late summer evening.
The season had been too dry; what few blackberries were left on the bushes were hard as marbles.
"Yeah. I looked all over," added four-year-old Brian. "Wish there was something."
That night, after the kids were zipped into their sleeping sacks and I was sure they weren't awake, I handed Bob a bag of large marshmallows and I grabbed a bag of the miniatures.
"Get the lantern and follow me," I said. "We're going to make a memory."
"What?" He looked puzzled.
I told him about the kids'campfire conversation and Bob grinned, "Let's go!"
The next morning over pancakes, I said, "Kids, I think you're going to have something to pick today."
"Really!" Julie's eyes shone. "What?"
"What?" echoed Brian.
"Marshmallows," I said, as though I'd said it every summer. "Last night Daddy and I walked down toward the lake and it looks as though they're just about ready to pick. It's a good thing we're here now. They only come out one day a year."
Julie looked skeptical, and Brian giggled. "You're silly, Mom! Marshmallows come in bags from the store."
I shrugged. "So do blackberries, but you've picked those, haven't you? Somebody just puts them in bags."
"Daddy, is that true?" He demanded.
Bob was very busy turning pancakes. "Guess you'll just have to go find out for yourself," he answered. "Okay!"
They were off in a flurry, little metal buckets reflecting the morning sun.
"You nut," Bob said to me, laughing. "It won't work."
"Be a believer," I answered.
Minutes later our two excited children rushed into the clearing.
"Look! I got some that were just babies!" Julie held up a miniature.
"I picked the big ones!" said Brian. "Boy, I want to cook one! Light the fire, Daddy, quick!"
"All right, all right, settle down." Bob winked at me. "They won't spoil." He lit some small sticks while the kids ran for their hot dog forks.
"Mine will be better because they're so little," predicted Julie. Brian shrugged, mashing two large ones on his fork.
We waited for the culinary verdict.
"Wow! Brian's eyes rounded with surprise. "These are sure better than those old ones in the bags!" He reached for another. "These are so good!"
"Of course," I said. "These are really fresh!"
Julie looked puzzled. "How come all those marshmallow bushes don't have the same kinds of leaves?"
"Just different kinds, that's all," I replied quickly. "Like flowers."
"Oh." She licked her fingers, seemingly satisfied with my answer. Then, studying the next marshmallow before she popped it into her mouth, she looked up with the sweetest smile and said softly, "We're so lucky that they bloomed today!"