Saturday, November 21, 2009

I'm At That Point In My Life

I had a chance to yet again watch one of the Indiana Jones movies last night and a quote from a professor caught my attention. "I'm at that point where life seems to stop giving and instead, starts taking away." The question is, why didn't I ever hear it the several times before when I saw the movie? Because it wasn't talking about me before. Now it might be. I've lost my husband, a former husband, my mother, a treasured son-in-law, a young nephew, my step-father, both my parents-in-law, countless friends and other relatives. Many of the activities I used to enjoy are no longer an option for me, due to chronic idiopathic pain in both feet.

That said, I live a relatively comfortable life. My children and grandchildren continue to fill my days with happiness, making me grateful that I am still around. And they help me stay busy. But not as busy as my dad helps me stay. This morning, he came by to enlist me in helping him pick some of the Japanese persimmons he so loves to eat. It turns out that one of my nearby neighbors has a tree which was loaded with fruit that they were not interested in and gave him the go-ahead to pick the tree clean.

When Dad was growing up, those in his family were migrant workers, going from field to field, harvesting fruit trees so, that upbringing, coupled with the passionate disdain that he and I share for wasting anything, explains why we just had to do it. But we are a pair. Picture this . . . he is 87 years old and suffers from macular degeneration (so he can't see), almost total hearing loss and serious arthritis, too serious to consider climbing a ladder, so he picked from the ground. I too experience the delights of arthritis and said foot pain, but to that equation, add vertigo and the intense dislike I have for heights, even an eight foot ladder. However, I'm on it ~ precariously reaching for the fruit above and to either side of me.

It is imperative that you "leave the stem on the fruit" (that's a hilarious story for another day) and scissors are not adequate to cut the woody stems. All I could find was a pair of needle-nose pliers, so I'm looking very proficient up on that ladder, when Dad mentions what we really need is a 22' ladder to get the fruit in the tops of the tree. There is no way. "We need to leave some for the birds, Dad, and I'm not sure it's worth the effort for the 3 or 4 dozen persimmons left." "You may be right" he said. I knew full well at the time that was too easy. Without saying a word, he went to his truck and drove off. I was guessing nature called. When he didn't come back right away, I began to imagine him scouting for a longer ladder, but I was right the first time. Right and relieved. Daddy was too. Anyway, we made a haul and I'm grateful we have a plentiful number of persimmons to eat and share. As he drove away, he did mention that he knows someone with a tall ladder that would be glad to come and get those few surviving persimmons. I knew it was too easy!

The whole time we're picking, my thoughts drift to the many occasions Daddy has kept me busy. One year, he brought to me 60 freakishly large dead chickens that he had raised, and dressed out. Four extremely long days I spent canning chicken, but before I could can them, I had to cook and bone them because they were too large and tough to cut up raw. Imagine though, how thankful I was for the next long while, to simply open a quart jar of cooked, boned chicken for pot pie, noodles, chicken & rice, stew, or any other chicken meal I was preparing.

One year, Dad backed his truck up in my driveway, loaded with his first harvest of beets. The finished product was 90 quarts, not pints, but quarts of the best pickled beets I have ever tasted. I had never pickled beets before, nor canned chicken for that matter, but look how much I have learned, thanks to my Dad!

Most years, we've picked figs around the 4th of July. They are so yummy fresh, but we're like the Blue Bell ice cream people who "eat all we can and sell the rest." We eat all we can and preserve the rest. Figs, especially if they've had much rain just before harvest time, spoil rapidly, like in hours, not days. So, if Daddy brings me figs, I've got my work cut out for me, immediately. I try to keep plenty of sugar and strawberry jello on hand during fig season because I never know when he might show up with 5 gallon buckets of the sweet little things. (Just 3 cups of trimmed figs, 3 ounces of strawberry jello and 3 cups of sugar makes great strawberry fig preserves. Bring those ingredients to a boil for 20 minutes and ladle in hot jars. Viola!)

Daddy's always bringing us stuff to share with my siblings that 1) he bought on the side of the road 2) someone gave him 3) he produced himself 4) is enough to feed a small army. Fish, sweet potatoes, plums, citrus, to name just a few. It is part of his legacy. Most of the time, I am happy to receive it. Years ago, when he had a garden and chickens, he'd gather and head my way. In the 5 gallon bucket, I'd find eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and cantaloupe, in that order from bottom to top. Yep. Eggs on the bottom, etc. So we weren't always able to use everything he brought, or we might have to clean stuff up before we start working with it, but his heart is always in the right place.

I miss my Mom. She could "make a silk purse out of a sow's ear." She was a wizard with box cake mixes and could cook fish and wild game as well as anything from the grocery store. She was good at improvising because with having had six kids within 10 years, she had to be. Her penmanship was impeccable and she really knew how to squeeze the last drop out of a dollar.

I remember when she went to buy a used car, she wore a pair of white dress gloves. The salesman made an offer, too much in Mother's opinion, so she said nothing, just began to put her gloves on. The salesman, fearful of losing a customer, enthusiastically began to come down in price, so she took her gloves off and laid them in her lap to listen to his offer. This process was repeated several times until my mother was satisfied that it was a fair price.

My parents divorced when I was 18, and Mother took all 6 of her children and bought a small home in Lake Jackson, not far from where I've lived for 32 years. Gutsy. Talk about tenacity! I think of all the women who stay in contentious relationships because they are fearful they cannot make it on their own. Mom was afraid of June bugs, but that's about all.

With reflection comes much gratitude for all that life has given me.


Mom and Dad said...

What special memories! I do remember the chicken canning you did along with a number of the other things you mentioned. Those were the days! Miss you and the good old days! Sorry, apparently my sign in for Teresa's blog is Mom and Dad so that's all it's letting me put as my identity. LOL

Chris said...

Is that YOU??? So good to hear from you! Getting ready for another birthday celebration? Tell that husband of yours you deserve something special. Miss you too. If memory serves me well, you were slap in the middle of most of all the canning I did back in the day. Those truly were the days. :-)

Chelle said...

I hadn't heard any of those stories.

I surely have witnessed many a spontaneous visits from Grandpa with perishables in hand!

I think I got the fear of junebugs from Grandma. Icky, icky, gross, gross!!!!