Edd B. Jennings
In the pre-dawn hour my grandmother once so loved, I checked the seal on the blue Mason jar. How old this jar might be, I had no idea. I found it in the undisturbed dust of the basement shelves where she kept her canning. Behind the cobwebs, behind the lines of filled jars, other jars much older I couldn’t possibly use with modern canning seals waited for a summer that wasn’t going to come.
My grandmother died twenty years ago. No one ever went back to claim her last season’s canning. Too many years had passed to rectify this waste.
I wanted to touch this old blue jar, to clean it. Its rim wasn’t that much different from a modern jar. It might work.
If it didn’t, I could call it just another jar. The sugared peaches I filled it with wouldn’t go to waste. I could mix them with my oatmeal this morning.
For the first time in my life, I took up home canning. I had no one to show me. My grandmother would have, but in those years the ferned woods drew me more than the fragrant kitchen. I learned from a book. Maybe if I filled the empty shelves of the slant-roofed pantry beneath the back stairs with canning, I could bring back something of days gone.
The seal slipped when I touched the cool jar, telling me what I already knew. When I counted the pings of the sealing jars yesterday, I came up one short. If there were a way to make this jar work, my grandmother would have known, and I wouldn’t have found it empty. I pushed back at the disappointment. Lots of the old jars wearing brands from fifty years ago did work.
Deep in the winter, the act of retrieving something canned could bring back my grandfather’s voice when he sent me out into the snow to the outside basement door for a jar of fruit or jelly or pickles.
Maybe nieces and nephews would visit this winter. Maybe I’d send them. My collection of brightly illustrated and elegantly written cookbooks couldn’t bring back what I had lost. My grandmother never searched for elegance. She never knew the touch of good paper, but she understood what it was to go to sleep hungry.
Sometimes, I didn’t listen when I had the chance. Other times, I saw my grandparents watch the horizon for what, I didn’t know. When I asked, they didn’t answer. Maybe some things weren’t meant to be passed on.
There are things I’ve done I will never tell my nieces and nephews. I am not them, either the generation past or the generation coming on, and they are not me. Yet, more connection exists than I’ve always understood.
The light bends and tints when it passes through this worthless old blue jar I can’t quite throw out. We can’t always see the light the way another person would without help, but once in a while the act of touching something forgotten brings back a little of what might have been lost.