Hobos and Huckleberries and Vacation Annihilation

Vacation: Part The First

Greetings readers!

I'm back from vacation and suitably refreshed in mind and body and spirit(s).

This year, our trip to Schuylkill County began with a stop-over in the idyllic Hegins Valley to visit with my childhood friend at her mother's sister's house (that's two degrees short of Kevin Bacon's aunt's cousin's dogwalker) and lounge in her pool and stuff ourselves with ham sandwiches and Middleswarth barbecue potato chips. My good friend and hobo, Jor Jazaar, joined us on his way through hobo-ing toward Wilkes-Barre, and let me tell you, there's just nothing like giving your young children the perception-altering and horizon-widening experience of hanging out with a honest-to-goodness hobo. Ever since Mr. Jazaar has become a part of my children's lives, they've learned that homelessness and a person's choice to live simply and rely on less does not necessarily mean that person is a) without "human value" as defined predominantly by participation in consumer culture, b) immoral, or c) insane.

My kids have also learned how to hop a freight train, smoke a stogie, and fish barely used shoes out of dumpsters, so they should be all set for fourth grade Social Studies. Hanging out with a hobo is like un-schooling for anarchists.

All that said, Jor Jazaar is a hobo with a blog - a hoblog? - so he hasn't entirely turned his back on the 21st century, and from there the lesson in moderation in all things: Sure it's grand and just to tear down at the materialism and even the technologies that sometimes work to separate ourselves from ourselves and from all humanity, but let's not get too crazy all at once. For instance, Jor Jazaar also has a laptop and a cell phone. However, instead of getting picky about just who can or can't rightfully call themselves a hobo, I think it's the definition of "hobo" that needs expanding, don't you? Let's not get particular about pork pie hats and the fact that our favorite hobo is less likely to be caught heating up a can of beans for dinner and is instead much more likely to be seen sitting down to a plate of quinoa and a mug of green tea.

He's more of a Metrohobo.

By the way, that photo was nicked from the Internets and is not (yet) Hobo Jor Jazaar. It's just another funny, more ornery hobo.

Our second day of vacationing was spent hiking up the mountain behind my mom's house to pick blueberries.

Excuse me...huckleberries.

I have no idea what the difference between huckleberry and blueberry is, and oddly, Wikipedia is no help on this matter. My mother insists that huckleberries are simply the feral relatives of cultivated blueberries, but I'm not so sure. Hobo Jor Jazaar only pondered Mark Twain's choice of Huckleberry Finn over Blueberry Finn, commenting that one sounded more folk-heroish and the other moreso a great name for a breakfast cereal character. Oh, if only I knew a yonko horticulturist named Kenny to clarify the differences between huckleberries and blueberries!

Back when I was a kid, picking huckleberries went something like this:
  1. Dad announces that it's July and that last week during his walk up the mountain, the berry bushes were loaded along the pole line (i.e. a huge swath of land cut through the mountains over which electrical wires are run along honking big poles) and gosh gee wouldn't it be swell to go pick some berries as a family outing.

  2. Kids yell "Yipee!" and mom gathers buckets.

  3. Kids pile into back of pickup truck and dad proceeds to barrel up the side of the rocky mountain while the buckets bounce around in the back of the truck like loose cannonballs, and the kids are slapped alongside the head by sapling branches and sticker bushes.

  4. Dad stops truck on a precarious incline and kids get out and start scrambling over rocks, throwing rocks, slipping down rocks, and banging the buckets along the rocks. Mom and dad set about picking berries.

  5. Kids pick berries. Kids eat berries. Kids pick berries. Kids spill berries. Kids get to pee in the woods. Kids eat berries not peed on. Kids spill more berries.

  6. Repeat for five hours in the boiling July sun until mom has picked enough huckleberries to fill back of pick-up truck.

As a kid, after about the first fifteen minutes of this routine, I was hating picking huckleberries. But what could I do? I was up the mountain, it was hot, bringing a water bottle was considered a pansy-assed show of weakness and so prolonged activity other than sitting and picking berries was intuitively prohibitive, and my parents were astoundingly and blissfully deaf to any complaining or whining.

And so, at the age of about 7, I had my first of many experiences with the mind-clearing selflessness and annihilation of desire brought about by enforced ascetic meditation. Frankly, it stunk. Even for an era before melanoma and the highly publicized child-snatcher craze, my parents took the whole "Leave No Child Inside" thing way too far.

Of course, this was an exercise in nature literacy and meditative selflessness that I thought my children should experience, and so on Wednesday afternoon, me, my two older kids, and Hobo Jor Jazaar headed up the mountain and into the distant graying skies.

Normally, I wouldn't bring my kids out in nature when I have Doppler radar and the Internets and Weather.com all keeping me abreast of any trending severe weather that may or may not wash my way and crash around me and keep me indoors waiting for it to happen. But because my mother's house is currently without Internet, you actually have to wait until the top of each hour to get a television weather report that covers half the state, and it's a report that from June through September unvaryingly limits any daily prediction to "Eh. Might rain, might not."

So with only the spirit gods to guide us, I asked out loud, "Will it rain or not?" Hobo Jor Jazaar took a look at the sky, squinched up his eyes, shrugged his shoulders and gave essentially the same prognostication as the local weatherman: "Naw. Maybe. Naw."

We didn't get to barrel up the side the rocky road in a pick-up truck and tear through scrub oak, but I did try to keep the kids at a brisk trot over the rockiest patches, just so the journey had the same bracing effect as I remember.

And although I did slather my kids in sunscreen and deigned to allow some beverages and victuals, as a consolation, they did have to maneuver more trash and broken glass than back in my day. On the other hand, instead of the mind-clearing effects of being in the great outdoors without man-made media adversely diverting their thoughts to things other than the berries and the bears, they did have reading material in the way of beer bottle labels and the words "Shit Happens" spray-painted across a grand large rock at the head of the trail.

In the end, however, they did get to pick berries and spill berries and eat berries right off the bushes, and it's amazing how the whining and complaining gets lost along the mountain ridge and the sound diminishes when there aren't four walls to bounce off and no grown-up readily acknowledging the lamentations and supplications of "I'm bored" or "I'm tired" or "I heard a growl over there in the bushes" or "I don't even like huckleberries to begin with." Eventually, the whining died down and their tummies were full and finally they got around to staring at rocks, chanting mantras to the insects, and really beginning to get a grip on the The Four Noble Truths.
  1. Between Mom's idea of fun and my idea of fun lies the definition of suffering.

  2. The origin of suffering is attachment to worldly possessions such as air-conditioning and cushy chairs and Nintendo DS.

  3. The cessation of suffering is possible, but not until your mom says so.

  4. The path to the cessation of suffering is lined with stupid berries.

Meanwhile, I was blissfully lost in meditation, sitting on a tree stump, picking another quart.

We picked about three quarts of huckleberries altogether and then headed back down the trail, the first dark storm clouds riding up through the valley. My children, normally worried about such things as being struck dead by lightning or being eaten by wild bears, were, I think, just too wiped out to even care.

The trek up the hill, the day in the sun, the unanswered complaining, the humidity and impending downpour, the introduction to new swear words painted on rocks, the hobo quoting Twain, the hours peering down into tiny green shrubs, getting stuck in sticker bushes, searching to find plump berries to pick and eat and eat and eat and eat, and then the bugs and the chanting and the mother who just didn't seem to care...all successfully worked in concert as a sort of enforced refreshing of oneself in mind and body and spirit through rigorous relaxation.

And isn't that what summer vacation is all about?


Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Now this is the stuff of which childhood memories are made.

Jon said...

Too much good stuff to list. Funny. Entertaining. Meandering in unpredictable ways. Winks to smart people. Hobos. Awesome.

Did your kids pee outside? Because peeing outside usually seals the deal.

And could you tell your sister that you knew about the whole "idiot" thing and that it was a joke. She totally wants to beat my ass.

Karen Jensen said...

This so reminds me of an annual experience of my childhood. But I will save it for my own blog, dammit. I do wish I had a quart of those berries, though.

anne said...

Are you sure that isn't a picture of Vince?

Awww, now you got me all wanting to go up the pole line and flagellate my spirit in homage to the scrub gods.


And, BHJ ... Pudding. That's all I'm saying.

josetteplank.com said...

"And could you tell your sister that you knew about the whole 'idiot' thing and that it was a joke."

I have no idea what you're talking about.

Moobs said...

Welcome back! By the way you are now equal 10th in this year's tenuous connections competition. There's still hope!

Krista said...

Jozet..that is some good stuff!

Just remember, the kids will thank you for it when they're grown! You haven't been turned off to berries in adulthood as a result of being held prisoner and hostage on that mountain sentenced to 4 hours hard time picking berries, right?

Sounds like a lovely vacation, laid back, bummin' around, vegging out and enjoying lazy time!

I think my kids could really benefit from a hobo in their lives.

Variations On A Theme said...

What a rich experience! About the hobo. I had a friend who was chronically homeless. When I met him, he was working and eventually paying off about 10 years worth of child support he had avoided during some of his homeless years. He was charming and a talented photographer (nice digital Nikon donated to him after some rich people saw his work).

We ate lunch once a week; I helped him run errands; he came to our house for supper many times; he visited me in the hospital after the birth of my first child.

He was a close friend, but I started realizing some unhealthy things after about a year.

He decided to go back to the streets, which I didn't understand. He had an apartment, was paying bills, etc. He was angry that most of his check was going to pay child support, but when you abandon your wife and two chidren, you really owe them something.

I'm chronically naive, and I eventually realized that his intentions toward me weren't completely honorable. (He was about 20 years older than me, so I really didn't think of that.) He slowly tried to erode my relationship with my husband with suble, cunning conversation. Then wanted me to go to the streets with him when he made his final decision to return.

He also had this bizarre sense of complete entitlement, and believes it's the job of society to take care of him and all the other homeless. I DO think it's the job of society to take care of the homeless who are mentally challenged, down on their luck, veterans screwed up by war, etc. But this guy just chooses not to work. Maybe he does have some significant metal problems, but he's extremely intelligent and capable, etc.

I feel badly that my view of the homeless is jaded by my relationship with this guy. But your hobo seems mentally healthy, etc. (I checked out his blog). I think it IS so important for kids to see their parents interacting with and treating people from all walks of life as peers.

I checked out your hobo's blog, and was so pleased to see a stable homeless person who didn't seem to have a sense of entitlement. Thanks for sharing that link.

The homeless guy I knew has a blog, too: http://thehomelessguy.blogspot.com/

Sorry for the ramble. Your post brought back some memories.

josetteplank.com said...


Ah yes. I've met my share of serial moochers as well, and being burned does sting. Some people do have the extended compassion and deep selflessness to continue giving and giving and giving and to consider their giving a humble honor apart from the receiver's intentions or morality.

I'm just not that enlightened. I can get there halfway, and then I get grumpy.

I hope that my hobo can renew your faith. Believe me, I've tried to give the guy stuff, and the most he'll take from me is a ham sandwich for which he then repays me by instructing my kids in etymology and entomology...or something.

And just think of it this way: for every homeless person who is a jerk, one is bound to meet a person with a job and a house who is also jerks. Jerkdom has a way of being unprejudiced in who it afflicts. :-)

Thanks for stopping by and rambling. You know me, I love a good ramble, being a rambler myself. I haven't been a good commenter on other blogs lately, but I'm trying to keep my favorite writers in my monthly rounds, if not my weekly.

A.C. said...

We had blueberry bushes in our yard when I was growing up (as if I've finished...). My mother could pick over a million times more than we could. She was a picking maniac. My brother and I would get bored quickly and take to throwing the half-ripe berries at one another.

Jennifer said...

Wow--huckleberry picking and a hobo! Now that's a good summer vacation! My kids are lucky if they get an afternoon at Chuck E. Cheese.

I guess I never knew what a huckleberry was--in my mind they were closer to a blackberry.

Also, I'm curious about how you became friends w/ a hobo! I wish I had a hobo friend...

Backpacking Dad said...

A huckleberry was a colloquial term of measurement: "Just a huckleberry over" that also meant "just the thing for the occasion", which can be seen in "Tombstone" when Doc Holliday appears out of the trees and says to Johnny Ringo: "I'm your huckleberry."

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm scribbling down these terms... "Metrohobo" and "rigorous relaxation" and the whole thing about a mother's version of the Buddhist Four Truths. Those are going on my refrigerator, with credit to you of course. You can always stop by and make sure that I gave you a by-line. ;) I'll even hand you a beer and a slice of huckleberry pie. -Still in IA

Mr Farty said...

What Jenn said.

Plus it brings back really happy memories of home-made blueberry ice-cream. *sigh*

Anonymous said...

jozet, fyi, the huckleberry is the low bush member of the blueberry family, rarely growing taller than 2 1/2 feet tall. the high bush form, which are always called blueberries, can grow taller than 5 feet. that's why you take the kids to pick huckleberries, they're closer to the ground, and don't have to bend as far. ken

Anonymous said...


Paris Hilton

Mom101 said...

oh fabulous.

And really, hobo is a word that needs to make a comeback. When we started saying "homeless" for everyone it just sort of took the joy out of the language.

Fairly Odd Mother said...

I just love your memories, and that you try to recreate some of the best for your kids. And, I love picking berries although I'm now trying to grow them in my yard too which won't be nearly as exciting as your trip.

Tootsie Farklepants said...

Funny. The road to my kitchen is also lined with stupid berries.

Anonymous said...

I like huckleberries more than I like blueberries. They're smaller and therefore contribute to less mush in baked goods while still provding blueberry flavor.
The last time I picked some I spilled the whole bowl. No recovery. Talk about your black clouds...
JEM from the burg (and Rolf the dog lover)

Peggy Sez.. said...

But did you have fun?

What were we talking about?

unmitigated me said...

And hearing Doc Holliday tell Wyatt Earp, "I'll be your blueberry." It just doesn't have the same ring.

Anonymous said...

I have just returned from southeastern British Columbia where I grew up and yes was "tortured" by my parents every summer by being forced to pick huckleberries. Your memories are very similar to mine.
I really liked the canned huckleberries on top of ice cream in the middle of the winter more though!
Every summer I say I'm going to go picking but every summer this are the bear warnings. Maybe I'll go next year.

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