I opened a jar of jelly this morning.
It wasn’t store bought, it was home made.
It was made of something known as quince – a fruit that looks a lot like a drunken pear, and is really not all that good to eat directly, but is wonderful in jellies, it has almost a smokey apple flavor.
Mom’s had a fruit tree – a quince tree for years, and every year she’s canned jelly.
She’d put them in little one pint Ball canning jars, put the year and the type of fruit on them, and then put them on the counter to cool. As they cooled, you could hear them seal – there’d be this audible ‘doink’ as the lid of each one actually sealed shut.
When dad was still alive, I knew she’d be in the kitchen, cutting up fruit, and dad would be sitting in his chair, reading jokes or stories out of the Reader’s Digest to her just to keep her company. He was her cheerleader. There were things she did well, and things he did well – over the years they’d complemented each other. It was a scene that would play out every year, at the end of every summer, when it was time for the harvest of all the trees they had growing.
And every year, when the canning was done, there’d be this armada of jars on the counter, each with its own destination, each with the name of the fruit and the year written in sharpie on the lid.
The thing about this was that often she’d end up making far more jelly or jam than they could consume, and so whenever we visited, we couldn’t leave without a couple of jars of jelly. Sometimes it was quince, sometimes it was black currant mixed with raspberry, sometimes it was blackberry.
And sometimes, these jars of jelly would end up in the back of the cupboard in our kitchen, like this morning.
I opened a jar – this one clearly an old one, one that had been made while dad was still alive.
I rolled it around in my hand, hearing the stories it was telling me – of the fruit that mom and dad had picked off the tree in the side yard, of the way they had carried it over under to the picnic table or into the house, of the stories dad read to mom as she peeled and prepared the fruit. I heard it tell the story of how it was kept cool, preserved for just the right time until she pulled it out of the pantry to give to us.
I looked at it – listening, feeling, remembering.
I unscrewed the canning jar ring, then wedged my fingernails under the lid and heard the hiss as the air from today mixed with the air from many years ago – and the thoughts of today mixed with the memories of years gone by.
I realized, with a start, that not only was I holding a jar of jelly, I was holding a time capsule in my hand.
A time capsule of love.
I dipped a knife into it, and spread it on my toast, and with a cup of coffee and a smile, planned my day.
© Tom Roush