Most colleges have that guy, you know, the guy living the Matthew McConauhey cliche, having graduated or dropped out years before but still hanging out at the college. At my school that man was named Matt the Hippie. You can guess what he looked like from the moniker alone. I suppose he needed the 'the hippie' by-line to distinguish himself from all the other Matts. Or maybe, and more likely, it was applied because unlike all the other college campuses in the early 90s Bennington, thankfully, did not have a large roving pack of nouveau hippies. By my junior year only the senior class had actually attended school with him and he was older than them. However, Matt continued each fall to make friends with the incoming freshman and transfers. He even had a girlfriend at the school.
However, differing from the cliche, Matt was not predatory. Everyone knew Matt and everyone liked him. He made his rounds with all the cliques on campus. He had a toe in every door. Even the elitist L.A. clique tolerated him.
One summer I was living in an apartment North Bennington with my boyfriend and two of our friends. North Bennington isn’t a busy town normally and certainly much less so when school is not in session. And that summer was New Orleans hot, hot for any town and scorching for a state with maybe three AC units.
I worked from 6AM - 11AM which left me free to spend the rest of my day pecking out angst ridden diatribes on my Underwood while everyone else worked normal hours. One afternoon while I was cooling off by hanging out of the window looking out at not bustling Main Street Matt the Hippie came bounding up the stairs and in to our apartment (the front door did not lock, in fact, I don't think there was even a lock). He was, no doubt, looking for Luke, or Jean Paul, or Andy but more than likely, not me. He was smiling as usual. Realizing I was the only one there he declared his purpose. “Hey, I just found this crazy blackberry bush.’ And he produced a quart of blackberries, ‘Do you want to go to the Tastee Freez and put these berries on our ice cream?’ I had never had more than pleasant but meaningless chats with Matt before and us hanging out together seemed unnatural and bizarre but he had a great idea and I had nothing better to do. So we hopped in his (surprise) VW bus and headed to the Tastee Freez. The Tastee Freez is (or was) basically a shack that is only open during the summer; it serves frozen custard that they curl up to ridiculous and delightful heights. Matt and I sat there on a picnic bench across from each other with the blackberries in between us. We threw them on our giant mounds of ice cream as quickly as we ate them. I remember feeling slightly envious, I would have liked to have found that blackberry bush and picked those berries. We had a surprisingly lively conversation and after our ice cream feast Matt suggested we drive go-carts. I had no idea Bennington even had a go-cart track. We went for two go arounds at the track and laughed the entire time. It was a perfect day. Matt and I were not going to grab a beer after this adventure nor were we going to be fast friends or even attempt to have such another outing again, it was an anomaly, but it was a perfect one.
When I got home I told my roommates ‘The oddest thing happened today.’ Matt left Bennington after that summer. I guess he realized he had reached his expiration date. And while I never had a real friendship with Matt I cannot look at a blackberry and not remember that day.
The weather here has been kooky and the plants seem to be about a month behind, so Jim and I were surprised to find that what we thought was an invasive thorny rose bush we have been trying to kill was actually a blackberry bush. I had to convince Jim to quit his methods of murder since it is a food provider. And so I have been slowly foraging and collecting over the past week.
Blackberry Thai-Basil Muffins (Makes 16 muffins)
2 2/3rd cups AP flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
4 tbs. unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp. lemon zest
2 cups blackberries
1/2 cup Thai basil cut in to a chiffonade
Preheat the oven to 400. Combine the dry ingredients together, storing with a fork. Combine the wet ingredients together. Add the dry into the wet, folding in with a spatula. I add the dry ingredients in in 3 batches. Once incorporated add in the basil and berries, give a quick stir to incorporate them. Line a muffin pan with muffin liners (or grease the muffin pan). Using a 1/4 cup scoop, scoop the batter in to the muffin pan. Place the muffin pan on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in to the muffins comes out clean. Let cool.