Thursday, September 11, 2008
My grandmother was released from the hospital this a.m. In talking with her, I shared that I'd just finished my first batch of peach jam this season the other night. There was a long pause.
"Baby, why on earth do you fool with all that mess?"
It was my turn for a long pause as I remembered unbearably hot days sitting at her kitchen table spent breaking beans, scalding beets and yes, slicing peaches. Those were happy times: Mamaw belting out church hymns, the constant hum of the box fan propped in the window, the smell of sugar being liquefied on the stove, the sting of tomato juice on my elbows. My Mamaw would can anything that stood still long enough to be blanched and pressure cooked, and I was right by her side, an apprentice basking in the glow of a Master.
I was caught off guard, so I took the practical approach.
"Wellllll .... so that we can have jam in the winter, Mamaw."
She called me on my bluff.
"A jar of jelly down at the Wal-Mart is cheap. It don't pay to make your own anymore."
I fumbled around with words like recession, economy, fuel costs and cost of living.
"Let me tell you something, Baby. You ain't never had no hard times. A dozen or two jars of peach jam don't put a dent in real hard times."
I know that this is truth, and I know that the mouth that wisdom came from has tasted the bitterness of times so harsh as to leave behind a memory that resonates half a century later. But I also know that seeing a few dozen jars of jam that I have coaxed, with my own hands, out of ripe, fragrant peaches glowing in the sunlight sets my heart singing in a way that few other things can.
I came clean.
"I guess I do it for love, Mamaw. I love that my kids love it. I love that my husband loves it. And it makes me think of you and me, and how much I love you."
A third long pause, this one almost epic in its length.
"You go on and make your jelly. I ain't leavin' you yet, youngin'. Good Lord willing, I ain't leavin' you yet."
And those words are far, far sweeter than all of the jam in the world.