Helping Papa get our house emptied after he sold it was one of my most heart-rending memories. I know a house is not a home, but I felt as though a price had been put on, our lives, the house was still there, but our home was nothing more than memories.
Cleaning out the fruit closet, as Mama called it, was the hardest thing I had to do.
While removing the jars of fruit, pickles and jam that Mama had so painstakingly "put up," I picked up the jar of yellow tomatoes that she had canned, years before. I wiped the dust off gently and looked lovingly at it's contents; still as beautiful as they were the day she canned them, when I was a child. I can still hear her saying, "Mun, will you get me a jar of tomatoes from the fruit closet? But don't get the yellow ones." That jar was her pride and joy. She always kept it on the front row of the shelf; just in case someone opened the closet door, they couldn't help but see the jar of beautiful yellow tomatoes among the red ones. They were the only yellow one's she ever canned, she was afraid they wouldn't keep as well as red ones.
Every year she saved the seed from two of the most perfect specimens from two plants. The seeds were sown in early spring to have plants ready when the danger of frost was over. They were sown in a discarded, oval, granite dish- pan filled with dirt. She baked the dirt in the oven to kill insect eggs and weed seed. She shared the plants with her relatives and neighbors.
Everyone knew what a perfectionist Mama was, where her gardening and canning was concerned. I remember going to Grandpa Whitt's farm when blackberries were ripe. Mama was in poor health and could no longer go blackberry picking. She kept Jimmy, my baby, while I went with Aunt Essie, her sister, to pick and can blackberries for her.
Although I knew how to can berries, she told me just exactly how she wanted them canned. "Now, throw out all of the faulty ones, wash the good ones through three waters. Be sure to wipe off the rims of the jars with a damp cloth before you seal them and don't move the jars until they are cold." She handed me a little ball of twine and said, "Now tie a string around the ones you can, Essie doesn't can to suit me."
When the jars were cold we put them in Grandma's fruit cellar where they were kept through the summer. Mama didn't like to start using her canned food until fresh fruits and vegetables were out of season or after the first of October. She would then start making her delicious blackberry and peach cobblers. The fruit Mama canned looked so pretty. Each peach half was placed in the jar with great care, the inside of the peach half, could not be seen the only thing visible was the pretty yellow domes, stacked on top of the other. Cucumbers were graded according to size, Mama wouldn't dare put different sizes of pickles in the same jar. Her preserved food was beautiful as well as delicious.
When Mama planted her garden, each seed was placed in the row and covered by hand and almost every seed came up. She used to say, "I feel closer to God in my garden than I do in church." Her garden was a thing of beauty.
The following spring after I had canned the blackberries for her, Mama called Aunt Essie and asked her to bring her a few cans of berries when she went to the farm. She sent her the ones without strings around the neck. Mama sent me back to get the ones that I had canned. "Here they are, I hope these satisfy her," Aunt Essie said, sarcastically, as she handed the jars to me.
Later that afternoon, Dottie, my niece called and said, "Munner, come quick, Grandma is sick." I ran as fast as I could, but as I opened the door I heard Doctor Frazier say, "I'm so sorry, I did everything I could, it was a heart attack." I stood there in disbelief, after a few moments I realized what he had said and I knew that my Mama was gone.
The jar of yellow tomatoes was the last one to be removed from the fruit closet. I didn't want to dispose of it, but I just couldn't let a stranger do it. As I fought back the tears I reluctantly unscrewed the lid from the jar and let the contents spill to the ground.
Millie Wilson © 1996