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When you are nine, you know that there are things that you don’t know , but you know that when you know something you know it. You know how a thing has been and you know that you can go barefoot in June. You do not understand that voice from back in the kitchen which says that you cannot go barefoot outdoors and run to see what has happened and rub your feet over the wet shivery grass and make the perfect mark of your foot in the smooth, creamy, red mud and then muse upon it as though you had suddenly come upon that single mark on the glistening auroral beach of the world.
Until reading Robert Penn Warren’s short story “Blackberry Winter”, I had never heard of the term. From the story, it’s described as cold weather during summer. I read this story for Week 40 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project when I drew the King of Hearts. It’s included in my copy of Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories edited by Morris Allen Grubbs. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.
The cold weather brings a storm into the life of Seth who narrates the story. While the story is only about this specific storm, even from the perspective of a nine year-old boy, the reader understands that this isn’t the first storm and flood to hit his rural Tennessee home in 1910, nor is it difficult to understand how this storm will wreck havoc on the economy and surrounding families.
“Blackberry Winter” reminded me of Ray Bradbury’s stories – perhaps because it’s about a child and it’s about summer. The difference would be that this story is less idyllic than Bradbury’s tend to be although it’s not without a little charm.
Seth sees his father as many young boys see their fathers – strong, heroic, protective. But Warren creates Seth’s mother to be just as strong and protective. He gets a sense of security from both of them. As Seth hears conversations from neighbors about whether drowned cows can be eaten and interacts with a tramp who is willing to bury dead chickens for money, the reader subtley begins to see a contrast. It’s not a contrast between the rich and poor (it doesn’t appear anyone is rich in this story), the haves and the have-nots, or the lucky and the unlucky. I would say the contrast is between those who give up and those who don’t.