Rendered Fat Content


Vincent van Gogh: The Blue Cart
[Harvest at La Crau]

" … wipe away my leaking past."

After my father died and my mom relocated from the family home into assisted living, I helped clean out that old home place. It was over-filled with memories of times by then long past, as embodied in my mom's knick-knack collection, the mere existence of which spoke of bygone ages. Do people still collect knick-knacks? Most stuff elicited no emotional response from me, but somebody in the family found almost every "treasure" evocative. For me, the basement Fruit Room held by far the fondest memories and evoked an epic lumpy throat. Those shelves behind those plain plywood doors held at least thirty years of Preserving experience in fine quart jars still lined up like well-disciplined soldiers standing at attention.

There were Italian Prunes from the late sixties, I swear. I think I was there when she "canned" them in the steamy mid-summer kitchen.
The scent of whatever she'd be canning would become overwhelming until the whole world seemed filled with whatever aroma came into play that day. Some days the old home place smelled of asparagus and, some days, tomato. Whatever scent dominated came to inhabit my soul, it seemed, for I recall each scent clearly without the necessity of falling asleep and dreaming those times back into the present. Each aroma seemed tremendously evocative going in, and when I reencounter them, I'm instantly transported back into whatever there and then originally imprinted the sensation. My childhood could only be properly represented with Smell-A-Vision, technology with which, gratefully, the technologists have not yet cursed us. The traditional method seems more than adequate. Once experienced, it never ever extinguishes.

I found more than a dozen jars of my mom's Italian Prunes in that Fruit Room cupboard, still floating in their sweet juices, perhaps forty years after she'd accomplished the Preserving. She was in her forties then, twenty years before Parkinson's ended her Preserving practice and long, long before us kids had walked out those doors. I recalled the context with exquisite clarity. The family was still intact and seemed well worth Preserving. Then, before the subsequent enlightenment, I firmly believed that I hailed from probably the most perfect family. I grew up in a Walt Disney movie. Later, I went out into the world, and I suppose I learned better, that my upbringing might have been improved, though much of my experience still seems well worth Preserving. Still, it's passed. In a foolish abundance of caution, I threw the contents of all those jars into a makeshift compost pile, for I'd heard that revisiting such distant flavors could prove ruinous. I caught the scents, though, as I emptied each jar and unselfconsciously smeared some of the contents on my cheeks as I reached up to wipe away my leaking past.

Yesterday, The Muse and I continued the tradition, filling our kitchen with steam, curses, and scents. The Muse pitted fifty pounds of cherries while I cleaned and cooked off the remaining apricots. Four hours huddled over counters, practicing skills we both first learned in our mother's kitchen, still Honing those now sacred traditions. We're grandparents now, our families far out in the world or gone. We preserve for an uncertain future. Perhaps we only preserve for ourselves. Or maybe, just maybe, we preserve to preserve the tradition. It might even be my wish that when my son comes to clean out my old home place, he finds in the basement evidence of earlier Preserving and that he finds that evidence moving enough to evoke a memory and a tear. What else have any of us here but memories and tears we set to Preserving each year?

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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