by Kay Etheredge
Plump and blue and ripe, the berries signal their readiness from among their green leafy haven. I take them, one by one, and listen to the thud as they hit the bottom of the old warped aluminum pan that was my grandmother’s—her bent, arthritic knuckles strained white against its rim as she filled it, summer after summer, with succulent muscadines, tart crabapples, peas, beans, and okra. She cradled it next to her body as she cradled babies—her own, and the children of her own, and even their children, and she walked, rocking from front to back—shuffling to keep from having to bend knees stiffened with age and decades of harvests– from the fertile dirt of the garden, across the dew covered grass, and into the kitchen—her sanctuary. She set about filling her freezer and cupboards with enough for her and my grandfather, and enough to weigh down holiday tables filled with hungry family—hungry for the wonderful tastes as well as the love that grew strong and bountiful in their home.
I hold the pan like a treasure even though it is not fragile—maybe only the memories themselves are fragile. I can feel her hands and the hands of my mother on this pan. They are both gone now, and I am left to reap the harvests in their stead. I never imagined a time like this when I sat, innocent, and lanky and freckled from the summer sun, shelling peas into this very pan, my red hair damp on my scalp from the heat and sweat dripping down my back, my thumbs purple from the peas’ hulls, and I listened to the stories. I miss the stories most—along with the satisfaction that our family would be ready when the winter winds blew—our food was in the freezer and in the Ball jars in the cupboard, and our winter would be a time of sitting around the table and laughing and making our own stories as we reveled in the ones we all knew from the past—the ones that were repeated from old to young—and now my memory fades and there is nobody left for me to ask, “How did it go again?” I don’t want the stories to disappear like the food in the Ball jars that now sit empty—their glass mouths open and filling with dust and cobwebs in the cardboard box on the basement floor.
I imagine that in heaven we will revel in the stories again and we’ll have new ones—about how God’s mercies sustained us in the good and bad times, and how His grace rained down on us when we deserved it the least, and it will all finally make sense.