“Bill and Huckleberries”

huckleberry-plant

Bill lived next door to Everett, also directly across the street from us. Bill was widowed during the time we lived there, after we had witnessed numerous ambulance calls for his chronically ill wife, Retha. Bill was so quiet he made the laconic Everett seem loquacious. Bill kept to himself, though not in an unfriendly way. I think, despite the fact that he had lived his entire life in Oregon, he would have been very at home in upper Maine.

Bill grew an enormous vegetable garden in the community garden plot near our homes. Then every summer and fall he canned all the bounty from his crops. He fed himself all year on food he had grown himself. He had told Everett once that after living through the Depression, he was never going to take food for granted. He went to bed about 6p.m. and rose at 3a.m., a habit no doubt from his factory shift days.

One summer day he invited Charlie, my husband, to go huckleberry picking with him. This was an unexpected offer on Bill’s part, and one Charlie immediately accepted. Bill had fashioned his own huckleberry cans from old paint tins with wire handles. Bill drove far into the timberline around Mt. Hood, traipsing farther than we knew Bill could go, to show Charlie the prime picking grounds. They picked bucketfuls of berries and brought them home to freeze. Bill also gifted Charlie with one of his buckets.

We came to believe that Bill, in his own silent way, was passing on his knowledge of these isolated huckleberry bushes to someone he knew would appreciate them. We thought the gift of the bucket reinforced our thinking. Of course, Bill didn’t articulate any such thing. He was a man of action, not words. But his actions that day told us we were valued as neighbors. And we saw the generosity hiding in his flinty exterior.

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