Chat About Care-Taking: When It’s Fun!

Feng shui was needed.  We couldn’t get inside the backyard storage shed. Mom dreaded the job and tried to distract me  – getting ready to get ready, as it were – but I threw open the door of the shed and hauled things out onto the lawn.

What a bonanza of memories!  Opening one of the first dusty corrugated cardboard boxes revealed Ball canning jars, lids and seals.  It had been a long time since Mom canned anything, but the jars were still brimming with scenes from my childhood.  My first thoughts were of our home in Dublin, Georgia.  The spacious rural lot had plenty of room for my swing set, a playhouse made from a shipping crate and Dad’s barbecue grill, but it also backed up to a huge, unfenced plot of land, whose owners were amazingly generous.  They welcomed infringements of their land’s boundary and our vegetable garden was one of those infringements.  We were  also encouraged to help ourselves to pine straw, pine cones and even sawdust, when the landowners harvested tall pines for lumber.  As a kid I would sit on my swing set before supper listening for whippoorwills and breathing in the luscious smell of freshly cut pine.

Our garden had a few rows of corn, some okra and tomatoes, green beans, watermelons and cantaloupes, as well as cucumbers.  Not those gigantic, shiny, uniformly green cylinders they sell at the grocery store, but knobby, grubby, curved cucumbers, each ranging in color from almost-white through yellow-green to dark-green.  As Dad gathered ripe cucumbers, Mom donned a sleeveless cotton shirt, madras shorts and an apron.  She washed her large blue-and-white-enamel blanching pans and the canning jars, lids and seals; and then covered every surface in the kitchen with dish towels.  When the kitchen was ready Dad would bring in his brown paper sacks full of freshly picked cucumbers and dump the first load into the sink.  Shaking her head at the overflowing sink, Mom pulled on her rubber gloves, grabbed a brush and started washing sandy cucumbers.

Back in Dallas, when I showed Mom the canning supplies, her first thoughts were of wild plum jelly.  That took us down another memory lane.  You can’t grow wild plums on purpose.  You have to wear your oldest clothes, load the car with baskets and paper bags – and then wander dusty back roads until you find plum trees growing along a fence line.  Then your dad parks the car and everyone tumbles out to pick plums.  Dad admonishes you to watch out for snakes which hang out near fruit trees to feast on small animals which eat fallen fruit.  You’re also supposed to stay on the side of the fence nearest the road.  Only Dad climbs over the fence to risk goring by enraged bulls.

We called ourselves the Wild Plum Pickers Society on these outings and I’m not sure whether it was the plums or the pickers which were wild.  Mom insisted we wear hats to protect ourselves from sun burn, long sleeves to protect our arms from scratches, long pants to protect our legs from brambles and I guess the sneakers and socks were to protect us from snakes.  I remember quivering with excitement as we climbed into the car in front of our house and returning filthy, sweaty, mosquito-bitten and hungry.  The next day Mom would take over.  Much of the ritual resembled the cucumber pickling, because the first result was not jelly, but canned fruit juice.  Jelly had a shorter shelf life.  From time to time, Mom would set up the kitchen for canning again, but instead of the blanching pan, she’d pull out the pressure cooker to turn the fruit juice to sparkling jam.

Eventually Mom and I set the box of canning supplies aside.  The dusty job of cleaning out the shed, garage and attic took weeks.  I showed up at Mom and Dad’s for days on end and spent my time sorting treasures.  One pile was for trash, another for the garage sale, another for me to take home and finally, the smallest pile was supposed to be items allowed back into the shed and garage.  I refused to put anything back up in the attic for fear I’d drop by the house to find Mom climbing the ladder to get something out of the attic.  Well, I was really most afraid of finding she’d fallen off the ladder.

Getting ready for and having the garage sale took as long as the cleaning-out did.  Mom had difficulty assigning prices to her memories.  Then she grieved because so little sold.  At the end of the garage sale she tried to rescue many items, but I firmly prohibited anything returning to the shed.  I loaded up my Jeep and took everything to the thrift store as quickly as I could.  The feng shui process was hard work.  Occasionally we cried – but more than anything, we laughed.  To me, recalling whippoorwills and the Wild Plum Pickers Society were worth every drop of sweat and tears.  What memories have you uncovered when you feng shui-ed?

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