Lately I have been making a lot of jam instead of writing. And by ‘a lot of jam’ I mean 102 pounds of it.
This morning we loaded the boxes into the back of D’s pickup to be shipped to Boston. I can’t say I will miss them. Or the procedure of producing all 241 jars, which involved scalding my fingertips on glass containers as I fished them out of a heating vat, singeing my arms when a boiling bubble of fruit shot from the pot and found its way to a bare patch of skin, and stirring a steaming soup of purple sugar water in front of the stove while it 94 degrees outside. No. I cannot say I will miss that activity for quite some time.
Maybe I will actually write again now that I don’t have to wonder about things like the viscosity of plum jam or the processing time at altitude. I made dinner for the first time in two weeks last night. You have no idea how comforting it was to slice tomatoes and zucchini and not have to cook them to the point of mashed oblivion. I picked four ears of corn from my garden and put them in a pot of salty water, boiled them for 10 minutes, slathered them in butter, and then ate them. No canner required. It was awesome.
Maybe now I will actually tend to my garden which is need of much tending. Especially the raised beds in the back. For the past month, every time I walked to the compost pile I tried not make eye contact with the plants. Weeds have taken up residency between the peppers. The kohlrabi has gone rogue. And the onions are lying down in protest. I am ashamed.
But more than anything I missed reading and writing. My laptop actually sat long enough in the corner to gather dust, and I remain three issues behind on my New Yorkers. (At my worst, I was four issues back, but managed some major catching up this weekend when I came across an article on Springsteen that took up half the July 30th issue and that I just skipped. Sorry Bruce. I have just never been that much of a fan.)
I am hoping that now I will finally have a chance to write about things I meant to write about earlier. Like how I have been thinking of my nana a lot lately. And by ‘a lot’ I mean every day. It started when we were addressing wedding invitations last month. When I got to my grandfather’s name it pained me to see his name alone on the envelope. I thought about my sister’s wedding just a few years ago. It was the last time my grandparents danced together. And my mom and I knew it. We both cried on opposite sides of the room as we watched them dance in circles in the one corner where her oxygen cord reached.
I thought about her when I made stuffed zucchinis last night. It was the first time I have attempted them since she died. It’s not that they are particularly difficult to make or were even a favorite dish of hers. They just remind me of a before she got really sick.
I will never forget visiting my grandparents’ home in Quincy and finding the most enormous zucchini I have ever seen sitting on their kitchen table. A gift from a cousin and one nana had no idea what to do with—she wasn’t really cooking much anymore. I snapped one of my favorite pictures of her posing with it, and then my mom and I looked up a recipe. A half hour later the four of us sat down to the last meal I ate with them in their kitchen.
I think that has been the hardest part of wedding planning: dealing with the things you didn’t plan for.
Most of the old people in my life won’t be attending the wedding for health reasons or worse. I never imagined writing ‘and guest’ on my grandfather’s invitation and the woman at his side be someone other than her. Making 241 jars of jam has been easy in comparison. You spend an exorbitant amount of time chopping fruit, coating it in sugar and lemon juice, and waiting for it to get to a point where it becomes something else. You get burned in the meantime. And a few days later the skin heals. You package up the jars and send them away. It’s like it never happened.
But people are different. They keep coming back to you. They are with you in your garden when you part the carrots and a ladybug crawls out from between the greens and onto your hand. They find you in your car when you look out the window and see a cluster of trees on a bare mountaintop and suddenly wonder if she is sitting under them. They come out of nowhere and disappear just as fast as they came. The experience is jarring. It stings. But there is nothing on your arm to explain it. So you just keep going. Keep working. Until the next time she appears.