There are many things I take great satisfaction from every summer. Picking black raspberries is one. Mom didn’t need to encourage me much to brave the terrible briars; I knew the jelly she made was heavenly. That was my only motivation, Mom’s translucent jelly spread onto fresh bread.
One hot humid day while picking in the woods as a kid, I stepped into a yellow-jacket nest. The bucket of treasure went flying overhead as I reeled away. My two brothers hightailed it up the dirt lane ahead of the swarm. I was left to run and scream like only a little girl can.
My arms were left bare to the onslaught; my pant legs were covered in stinging attackers. All I could think of was to remove those pants. Running and crying, trying to take off sweaty jeans, I was quite a sight to my brothers who eventually turned back to laugh at me. I was peppered with welts and not amused.
For as many stings as I had endured, my body remarkably did not react much. That was to be my downfall. Dad had taken up beekeeping. Shortly thereafter my mom and dad both discovered they were allergic to bees. So it fell to me to don the coveralls and veil, to assist Dad in wrangling his bees. Dad had a store-bought veil and white coveralls. I had a mended mock-up of a veil and dark coveralls. Bees don’t like dark colors. They also don’t like being messed with on cloudy days. Becoming accustomed to just having the honey bees hovering around was a job. Do not swat. Do not panic.
My mom was thrilled to be relieved of the duty. She was also thrilled to have honey for cooking and pollinators for her huge gardens. She had an orchard with cherries, apples and pears. She had a perennial garden full of mints, berries and comfrey. She had a big garden for root crops, and another for just corn and squash. My mom was a Class One Green Thumb. After moving to a new geographic location, following my father’s new Air Force posting, Mom would make several calls to the local County Extension Agent asking about hardiness, drought and soil types. The agent in one community finally referred her to the Master Gardener program. The members immediately asked her to join them.
While we were on that farm she tried to grow just about everything, including peanuts and pinto beans. One year she even planted rice in our old pig yard. She dutifully flooded it regularly but I don’t remember it panning out. Not to be deterred, she headed back into her seed catalogs for new adventures in gardening.
I don’t possess Mom’s flair for all things green. I can get a harvest from my many raised beds and one in-ground garden. Taking Home Economics in high school gave me a basic understanding of canning. Observing the assembly line of prepping in Mom’s kitchen gave me a sense of order. I could do this. Becoming a mother stirred in me that pioneering spirit of putting away food for the winter. Starting with the vegetables my children would eat, I mastered green beans, tomatoes and corn.
I tried jelly-making along the way with mixed results. I famously made black-raspberry pancake syrup one year when I didn’t measure the pectin quite right. Our friends loved it. I even used a jar of that syrup once to bribe a service station into looking at our farm truck’s brake failure immediately; I was in the middle of corn harvest.
A lot of things during the summer bring me deep satisfaction. The funny thing is they usually have something to do with Mom. I wish I had asked her more questions, but alas she is tending God’s gardens now. I know that was her favorite place, God’s gardens – a place where the miracle of life can come from the tiniest seed to in time feed a family.