After an early spring hike on southern Humboldt’s first warm day of 2002, I took the Avenue of the Giants north towards home. My thoughts weaved between focusing on the road and fantasizing about food. Up ahead, I saw a card table decorated with daffodils. I slowed enough to hear two little girls yelling in unison “Homemade blackberry Popsicles!”
Blackberries? There won’t be blackberries for months, I thought. I passed the two, small, hopeful faces on a road that doesn’t get much traffic this time of year. Their little stand got even smaller in the rear view mirror but the idea of stopping made more and more sense. It seemed an honorable person would never pass a child’s lemonade stand without first paying too much for a bleached-white paper cup filled with a budget brand powdered drink mix.
So, after making a U-turn on the empty road, I pulled up to the little stand. Longhaired girls busied themselves straightening up stacks of napkins and arranging daffodils so that the prettiest ones were up front. It looked like the moment they had been waiting for all day had finally arrived — a customer. Ignoring the fact that the yellow flowers voluntarily sprang up all over my yard, I asked for five daffodils and a blackberry Popsicle.
“Your total is $2.00 mister,” said a little country girl, her eyes squinting from the sun.
I moved my head to block its rays from her young face and asked, “ What are you saving for?”
“A trip to a water park down south, by our grandma’s house,” she said excitedly, smiling wide, revealing that she had been visited by the tooth fairy more than a few times in recent months.
I heard a screen door open and slam shut. A black lab, with a very long tongue, showed up and started licking my hand. The other girl, who had previously vanished, reappeared and handed me a dark-purple Popsicle. I traded her a five-dollar bill for the Popsicle and the flowers. The two began to count quarters, nickels, and dimes out of a blue plastic lunchbox that had a faded, redheaded, cartoon mermaid on it. After a couple of minor arguments over how many nickels were in a dollar, they gave me two handfuls of change. I put the heavier one on the table, and asked, “Do you accept tips?”
They looked at each other with confused expressions for a second, then back at the pile of coins. The one with the most teeth started clapping her hands frantically, repeating, “Yes, yes, yes!”
“Thank you mister!” they obliged, as I drove off with a Popsicle in hand and a front seat strewn with yellow daffodils.
As soon as my tongue met the fruity ice, I was whisked back into summertime. My mouth became a portal to the past. The taste recreated memories of raiding blackberry patches — in other peoples’ yards — on my way to classes at Humboldt State University. The Popsicle was a compact and frozen berry patch. If my tongue were an eye, it would have seen the taste as purple. Looking in the rear view mirror, I saw my lips painted in blackberry. This was no powdered drink Popsicle mix, it was berries from the banks of the Eel River picked by small hands, boiled and sweetened by momma, then frozen to its current shape. Smiling, I silently thanked good parents that support children with goals. Reminiscing about my own drink stands, newspaper routes, and lawn mowing days, I licked until the Popsicle was nothing but a stick. White blossoms on blackberry vines lined the road home. Summer is coming. I can taste it.