My mother-in-law loved to go mushroom-hunting before she had a series of small strokes. She knew every mushroom paradise in the state parks near her house, especially places filled with Chantrelles, a very lovely golden color.
She would show us what to look for, and oh, the excitement when my in-laws found a patch of them, from small to extra large specimens. As a city girl, the mushrooms I ate came in a can or in mushroom soup to pour over rice or pasta to increase the amount of food available to feed six people. So, I really was not interested in mushroom hunting, but I did like trying to please my new mother-in-law and other members of Douglas’ family.
Off we went into the forest, walking miles upon miles, looking in hollows, and under tree trunks searching for the elusive Chantrelle. As I searched diligently, I could hear the other members of the search team laughing and kidding with each other, reminiscing about past great hunts where many pounds of mushrooms were found.
I was moving a little slower, and so did not realize that I had stopped hearing anyone speak. In this large forest, I called out for Douglas, and no one answered. I started shouting all of their names, to no avail. As I tried to find my way back to the starting point, all of the trees looked amazingly alike. Finally, I realized that I was lost, and that no one might be aware that I was even missing!
As minutes turned into hours, I was so nervous, mainly because I was having what I referred to as a “Deliverance” moment. Anyone who remembered the movie knows that I was afraid of hunters coming through and finding me, a woman, alone. Also, I was probably the only black person in the forest or anywhere near it, as Douglas’ family lives in a city that I call “White People U.S.A.”
So, I stopped walking in circles, and found a tree near the road that I thought led back to the car. I sat down at the base of the tree, cried a little, prayed a lot, and waited, knowing that eventually my family would realize that I was not among them. I mean how do you lose the only person of color?
After nearly three hours, I heard my name being called, “Regina!” I stayed where I was and let them come to me. Finally, when I saw someone I knew, I called out my location. They were all so remorseful, for it turned out that when they separated to cover more ground and, I learned later, to try to avoid being spotted by the rangers, each person, including my husband, thought one of the others had me in tow. They were so embarrassed to have lost me.
They had so many mushrooms between them that my mother-in-law proposed a feast of eggs and mushrooms when we got back home. I knew that sometimes people can pick poisonous mushrooms, something that we were warned against as children. I decided that I would wait until all of them had eaten the food, and if none of them died, I would sample it.
But then, I thought how would it look for the police to come and find all the white people dead and one black woman still standing? Would they automatically assume that I had killed them all, including my new husband? Could I convince them that I was waiting to ensure the mushrooms were edible before partaking for all I was worth?
So, I sat down and ate with them. I really should not have been worried, for my sister-in-law had studied mycology, the branch of science that examines fungi, and she knew good mushrooms from bad ones, but you just never know if she were having a bad day! I don’t go with them anymore, considering it a bonding experience for sister and brothers and mother. I think that they are as relieved as I am when I stay behind with a good book to read, as no one need babysit me.