My mother had many and varied kinds of berries in our yard and garden: strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries and mulberries, to name just a few. But she never had a domesticated elderberry bush. Perhaps that was because she didn’t particularly care for elderberries, but my dad did. He loved elderberry pie. I never asked if his mother made it when he was a child or where exactly he developed his romance with the dark purple, nearly tasteless fruit.
Elderberries grow wild along the roadsides and unless you find them on a lonely gravel road, you take the chance of getting struck by passing traffic when you’re trying to harvest them.
Several times a year, we would travel the 100 miles to visit my aunt and uncle and their family. The highway was only two-lane at that time and quite busy. When Mom spotted the flowery white bushes in a tangle of green vegetation along the road, she would ask my father, who was always the driver, to make note of where they were. That way, they could find them later in the summer when the fruit was ripe. Elderberries are small and the wild ones are even smaller…picture BBs in a cluster. Once they’re ripe, it’s difficult to spot them along the road.
When the trip was made again, in a few months, Dad would cautiously pull off the highway, onto the berm and Mom, prepared with her scissors, would cut off the clusters and put them in plastic bags.
When she got home, the tedious task of removing the tiny, finger-staining berries began. I was never allowed to help but I watched intently. Mom would reserve enough for a pie and freeze the rest for later. There was no elderberry wine, juice, jam or tea made, only the pie.
I would watch as she peeled an apple and schnitzed (German word for ‘cut fine’) it and added it to the berry mixture. When I asked the reason for that, I was told that elderberries had very little taste, so they needed a bit of something sour added to them.
As a child who loved sweets, I thought the pie was wonderful. Sweet, purple-black filling bubbling up through the holes in the top crust made my mouth water.
As I vividly recall these memories about a tiny berry, I’m always amazed by the time and effort my mother put into making something she didn’t even particularly like. Perhaps that was one of my first encounters of ‘what love looks like.’ She went to the trouble of doing something simply because my father enjoyed it.
God does so many things for us: sunrises, sunsets, flowers, with the ultimate sacrifice of his son on the cross, simply because he loves us. Perhaps we should remember to do things for someone, even if we aren’t particularly thrilled, simply because it would bring joy to their day.
My parents have both been in heaven for many years, but I never see the elderberries growing along a roadside without recalling this childhood memory.
Gloria Doty is a published Christian author, writer and speaker. She has published a non-fiction book, a devotion book, a series of fiction romance books and several children’s picture books. Gloria has 5 adult children and 13 grandchildren. She has recently re-married and she and her husband reside in Fort Wayne, IN.