When I was a kid I was hired by a neighbor to help her “preserve” some fruit. She told me I could come to her house as soon as “her new stove came in. Because this is an electric stove and I need a gas stove so I can control the heat.” Two days later, she summoned me to c’mon over. Her new gas stove was all set up and ready to go; I was pretty impressed! I thought people had to wear out their appliances before they got to pick new ones. I made a mental note to marry a surgeon, like she did, so I could be fancy like that. Mrs. Ream also had two bountiful apricot trees in her backyard. Fancy as she was, she knew just what she wanted to do with those apricots. I knew very little about the process known as “canning fruit,” but was fascinated with the whole idea, and glad to learn all I could. I picked and picked and stirred and stirred and ladled and ladled. When she and I heard those metal seals go **click** **click** we knew we’d done it right, as the air was now out of the jars and the fresh ripe apricots were, indeed, preserved.
That was in the 70’s. Fast forward to yesterday, where in 2016 the “canning” skill has become rare. And I regret to inform you that what I learned about preserving food in jars is about as much as I knew back when I helped Mrs. Ream. I’m on the apprentice end of things. But yesterday, I felt the same camaraderie of service, working shoulder-to-shoulder with a couple dozen women. Together we packed over a hundred sack lunches for families of a beloved deceased woman, so they’d have food immediately after the funeral.
I did not know half of these women I worked with yesterday. I did not even know the woman who had passed away. But what I felt, as we brought out the peanut butter and the turkey and the homemade cookies into an assembly line (of sorts) was that, like me, these women had other things they could be doing. Saturday mornings are fraught with chores. Tossing those routine obligations aside, we converged upon this little church room and cheerfully slapped those sandwiches together. Kudos to my hilarious friend for splattering grape jelly when she angled the jar to scrape out a tablespoonful. The whole ten ounce blob landed on a piece of bread, and she carefully tried to scrape it back into the jar. I’m still laughing.
Within an hour we were done. Brown paper bags, neatly labeled, were now perched on the long tables in organized rows. The semi-chaos of “More apple slices over here, please!” “This lunch doesn’t have potato chips!” and “Does anybody have a spoon?” had settled into a quiet buzz. The efficient organizer who’d thought to spread out plastic tablecloths was now rolling the mess into a disposable bundle. We hugged and smiled and re-located our keys and went on to conduct the errands of the day. Some of the helpers stayed behind and attended the funeral. I know all of us felt the warmth of connection with one another, having spent a little time in the service of a mourning family.
I’m not a kid anymore, and making sandwiches is not a skilled labor. I’m hoping the recipients felt our love and good will. The experience reminded me of my days long ago, when I felt those first inklings of camaraderie and respect and hard work and final results. I felt all those things. It was a good heart hinge day.