Fresh off the truck from Yakima,
they arrive - flat brown boxes of velvet Clings
yellow and pink as mountain mornings,
days on end, weeks even, steaming
the kitchen days on end - Mom bending
over the water water bath, gleaming Mason jars,
a snowy dish towel tied around her
like a sarong, sweat rolling down her neck
days on end - golden rings like pirate booty
piled on the white enamel table -
she pushes wisps of hair out of her eyes
with the back of her wrist, screws the jar
lids tight - morning til night, days on end
blanching the skins off, paring slick
globes in half, pulling wrinkled pits
from red centers until her finger tips
are old and the last peach slides
round side up into the last jar
and the day ends and the memories begin.
This weekend I worked at my local Fred Meyer's giving out samples of iced tea and nut clusters. It's a gig I enjoy and it gets me out of the house into the heart of our neighborhood. Where better to take the pulse of a community than where everyone shops? And everyone in Burien seems to shop Freddie's. I see all the same people each weekend. Lately I've started observing what folks are purchasing, taking an informal inventory of their shopping carts as they stop at my table. This weekend I noticed that Burien is canning! Their carts are overflowing with boxes of Mason Jars, canning lids, pickling salt, sacks of sugar and packets of pectin. A nearly lost art rediscovered in these tough times. I imagine all over town people are clearing space in their garages for gleaming jars of fruit and vegetables.
One of my most cherished childhood memories is of Mom's late Summer canning frenzies, every surface of our farmhouse kitchen covered with cooling jars of peaches, pears, jams and jellies. Mom stored them in the cellar on neatly labeled shelves. How beautiful they were in the dim light of the single bulb that dangled from the ceiling. Yellow, red, white, green treasures. All through Fall and Winter we enjoyed peaches or pears with every supper. A few years ago Mom and I revisited the farm, meeting its third owner since we sold it in the seventies - touring the renovations, marveling at the changes - then down the remembered stairs into the basement were the concrete walls of the cellar were still lined with shelves my mother had so long ago carefully labeled "PEACHES", "PEARS", "BLACKBERRY JAM", "PEAS" . . . empty and covered with dust. But are they empty now? Or have the present owners been laboring in the farm kitchen all month filling sparkling new jars with bright fruit? I sincerely hope so.