Monday, June 16, 2008

Sunshine and Letting Go

Yesterday was Father's Day and a friend who remembered my father called late in the day to let me know that she was thinking of him and remembering him. I appreciated that very much. For the last nine years Father's Day has been so hard because shortly before he died I had ordered his presents and was itching for them to come so that I could surprise him with them. They came a few days after his funeral and I cried and put them away. One was a cd of music from movie soundtracks that include a piece he had especially liked, the music from that PBS series from the 1980's, Reilly Ace of Spies. I can not hear that on the radio still without tearing up and thinking that he never received my present. I can't remember what the other one was though, probably a book. So time is helping this.

As I write two friends are working in the side yard. My neighbor's plum tree lost a branch last Monday just as the heat wave got under way. After it is cleaned out and the branches with too many plums trimmed back, I don't think there will be much left. It was glorious this spring with an abundance of white flowers. I don't think that I was able to have anyone take any pictures, but every time I looked out at it I tried to memorize it just in case. I think its flowering this year, a month late may have indeed been its swan song.

For decades I have loved that tree, the white blossoms speak joy to me. Most years it bloomed in February at exactly the same time. In 1983 it bloomed while Mama was dying in the intensive care unit. I have thought of it ever since as her resurrection tree and felt on some level that when it goes, so will I.

The latter has really been mostly because the tree provided deep, luxurious shade to my bedroom window in summer's worst heat. It served so faithfully and well without any additional water than what it received from the rain. If it is truly unsaveable, as I expect it is, I will miss it terribly and grieve for it. It is and was a friend to me.

It is a Satsuma plum tree, the plums deep purple from stone to skin. Sweet and juicy the plum was a treat just off the tree and even more so after refrigerating it. Once in its heyday--and mine--I made splendid plum chutney from the fruit with garlic and hot chiles added. It was good enough that I could have entered it in the County fair, for it always won praise from friends whom I gifted it with at Christmas time.

Thinking about the plum tree makes me think of those times gone by. Mama made jam from some of the plums that was still on the shelves after she died. It was delicious on her home-made whole wheat bread. Bread baking and the sweet smell of jam bubbling on the stove, two food memories that are also smell memories.

The fruit along with fruit from an apricot tree would ripen on the hottest days, always on the hottest days, of course. Ripe fruit has to be attended to on its terms, immediately, or else it becomes compost or garbage very quickly. So it would be time to haul out the dutch oven and the wooden spoon, the hand grinder and the canning jars and rings (lids would already have been on the grocery list some weeks before so as to get them before the store ran out)and the work would begin.

The first time my sister and I tried canning was the year in the seventies that the grocery stores ran out of half-pint canning jars. This was actually a national shortage and I am sure in some parts of the country it was a real crisis. We bought three quarter pints and pints and even some quart jars. Every recipe that we chose made more than it said it would. We made zucchini pickles, canned apple slices and best of all, pear raisin mincemeat.

The pear raisin mincemeat and the chutneys were the best along with apricot jam when we had apricots from someone's tree. One year a friend gave me a large bag of Gravenstein apples. My recollection is that that one bag became four half pint jars of apple butter. Maybe it was six. It was essence of apple and it was sublime.

It has probably been almost twenty years since I have done any canning. I have had to let go of that too.

I will pray for the plum tree tonight when I go to bed. We will see. My friend is confidant that she can rig a shade structure of some sort so that I will survive. The side yard is only six feet deep, not deep enough for much. I wish it were ten or twelve. Twenty or twenty-five would be even better; then I could have a real garden in it. I am grateful today for the memories and the friends who helping with such hard work. Grateful too that it is cool.

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