The Raspberry Patch: Releasing Dennis

Raspberry branch

“Raspberries! Pick your own, and please put your money in the box.” Our roadside sign was perhaps not quite so grammatical. Dennis had no problem using “UR” for “your,” but if I was making the sign I spent far too long contemplating not just grammar, but what font to use. Somehow every year we put up a new sign and were open for business. 

The raspberry patch, which was at the south end of the vegetable garden, grew over the years. The patch was one of Dennis’ passions. I wish I knew if it existed before him, or if it was his own idea to turn a bush or two into what it is today, but I can’t ask him now. 

Raspberries can flourish on their own, but in Dennis’ world they needed tender care. As the summer heat increased I might say “The peas are dry,” and then go down to hear the rhythmic swishing of water from the sprinkler system cooling off the raspberries, not the peas. I once got a call from an Airbnb guest staying at his mom’s house asking if we could please turn off the sprinkler. It was 10pm. The water is pumped from the house, and yes, it is loud. I went down and shut the spinkler off. Good thing we live nearby.

Dennis always wanted people to understand how to pick raspberries, but unless he was there it was hard to explain. So, for those who are going raspberry picking for the first time, here are Dennis’ tips. 

    Wear protective clothing

    Gently pull, do not twist or tug, a berry, If it comes right off say thank you and put in your basket, if it does not, leave it be.

I am not sure he intended the raspberry garden to get so big, but it just grew and expanded into new territory. Volunteer raspberry plants would be moved from between rows, and a new row started. We also potted up extra plants and sold those on the side of the road. We traded our abundance with the Burning Tree Restaurant, Otter Creek’s only, and creative and brilliant, full-service restaurant. More raspberries went to a Bar Harbor bakery, and yet more took the ferry out to the Islesford Dock Restaurant. 

The raspberries took a lot of work. We would pull out the old canes in the spring, wearing gloves, pants, and long sleeves, yet somehow still ended up with tiny red scratches wherever exposed flesh could be found. We would tend each other with cotton balls soaked in Witch hazel for me, hydrogen peroxide for Dennis, just one of those couple differences. We kept both on hand. Can’t say who healed sooner.

A local arboriculture company dropped off a load of wood chips, and we filled wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow, shoveling many pounds between the rows, then raking them around the base of each bush. This may not have been such a smart idea, as the red ant population sky-rocketed. But so too did the amount of ripe, sweet raspberries. 

Dennis’ ability to speak decreased as his disease, Progesssive Supranuclear Palsy,  progressed. I became the one at the end of the phone. Jane from Bar Harbor would call and ask if it was time yet. I had bumped into Jane at yard sales, and knew she was a family friend. She told me confidentially that Dennis let her pick for free because she would give him a jar of jam. Mid-July  she called and asked if she could come pick. My eyes moved to the cupboard where we had eight jars of raspberry jam. “That would be lovely, Jane, I will call you when they are ripe.” And I did. Dennis told me he never called her back, as he knew she would phone daily till the raspberries were ripe. I liked our plan better. 

Facebook was an easy way to let folks know our raspberries were ready. They came, and picked, and only one got cranky about the red ants (we did warn folks). They stuffed bills and checks into the box. Dennis was gleeful as he came home with a wad of cash. Of course he was, he loved cash. I think $71.00 in ones made him happier than a thousand in stocks, which was a good thing.

We got fancier with the raspberries, using my grandfather’s pothole digger to plant posts at the end of each row. We ran rope along the rows about three feet from the ground, keeping the canes up and easier to pick. The raspberry production was pretty impressive. Dennis liked to pick and bring some home to put on his cereal. I would include them in a salad dressing, or sprinkle on ice cream for dessert.

For the past three years a neighbor would pick raspberries and bring them to Dennis, since he could not get out to pick. We live in a pretty caring and wonderful village. But we still did a drive by. This was Dennis territory, and he needed to keep an eye on the berries. We parked on the edge of the berry field, and he sampled the sweet, red, juicy berries just a few months before he died. He was happy. This is a place that was always imbued with Dennis’ spirit. It now has a few of his ashes.

The raspberry rows have not been tended lately, but they are still producing lots of fruit. There is no sign, the money box is still nailed to a post, but I do not check it. Help yourselves to raspberries, it would please Dennis, who gave away almost as much as he sold. Do not put cash in box I will not find it. Watch out for red ants, and if you peer closely, you just may see a tiny bit of silver dust from Dennis’ ashes. That’s where the sweetest berries are.

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