memorial for a brilliant woman

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Ball Blue Book of Home Preserving

It was her other bible, dog-eared and falling apart,
tucked in the back cupboard all winter, eager
for first fruits, beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers-
things that had to be put by in a jar.

The ritual was precise, timing life or death, hunger or plenty,
a false step meant a wasted day, the book stayed open
on the sideboard as a quick reference, close to the wall clock.

Every other space covered with produce, water boiling on the stove,
Mamaw would roll her stockings down and can
into the cool of the night, TV on for "Guiding Light"
later "Arthur Godfrey" or "The Hit Parade."

My job was to stand on a stool and wash jars and lids,
inspecting each rim carefully for chips and spots, sweat
dripping into my eyes, I could have a bottled coke
as long I kept working, paid attention.

She’d tell stories about how she met Papaw
(at a camp meeting in Tyler, Texas) when she wore
a crisp white shirt (high-necked and starched to high heaven)
and a long blue and white striped heavy skirt she’d made,
transporting her with his beautiful Irish tenor,
and if her friend, Ima Clem hadn’t near fainted
from the heat and been taken to a nearby house,
she might’ve never met him and I wouldn’t be here at all.

She used to say things like that-
how my very existence depended on a sequence of events
that seemed magical, almost random: a butterfly In Waco
flying left instead of right, an open window where a panther
climbed in one night when my Momma was a tiny baby,
and Papaw was off working in Houston, how she stood
over the crib and locked eyes with the big cat for an eternity,
then collapsed to the floor and wept when it left.

That beast would’ve taken Joyce
if I hadn’t been right with God
and we wouldn’t have you then, would we?

But where would I be? Would I be at all?
I wondered, fearful of God’s serendipity,
sure she wouldn’t answer, I pondered
these questions in my heart, like Mary.

As I grew older, I’d help less often, besides,
she’d started freezing more by then- plastic bags
standing up in wax-coated boxes had little personality,
even with the boiling water blanch we didn’t talk as much,
I must’ve been a mystery to her, awkward and moody.

I have a Ball Blue Book, ordered fresh off the internet,
but I’ve never used it, why bother? It’s too hard to can alone,
my daughter would roll her eyes, microwave a Lean Cuisine,
never caring where my mother met my dad (in an elevator)
when she winked at the guy behind him (who didn’t notice)
and my dad followed her to her office and asked her out
charming her with his thick auburn hair, his jokes,
they feel in love so fast their world changed in a blink,
assuring my existence, and later my daughter’s,
though that story will never be preserved
in a summer kitchen to be taken out later and shared again.


Terre said...

Oh my god, I just LOVE this! Not only could I "see" Mamaw's kitchen, I could remember watching my own grandmother canning in her kitchen with her Ball Blue Book sitting on the table next to her large print Bible.


T.S. said...

Ah, causality - the destruction of the "Matrix" sequels, but a master stroke here.

I'd rethink some line breaks and punctuation, but remember how this danced in my ears at "Expedient Exaggeration" last month. Great to read it again.

[Gearing up for April]