|Lizzie's Spring Bouquet|
|Lizzie's Summer Bouquets|
"Grandma", says the little voice to my left and just behind me, "When I grow up,can I work here?"
She can't see me smile.
"Lizzie, I would LOVE to have you work here!" What grandma would answer in any other way?
Lizzie's normal playmates, her cousins, are on vacation this week and Aaron is making a mum delivery to Omaha with Matt, so Lizzie and I are the lone rangers caring for the mum patches.
Alone, but not lonely. "Can I help?" "Can I do that?" Lizzie gets a tutorial on the push and turn of the hose bar and shutoff, then down the aisle on one side and back up the other with an eye out for wilted plants, leaders on the ground, weeds in the pots, weeds underneath the pot. She is tireless in pulling weeds. "How many weeds have you got?" "How come you have more?", like there's some kind of competition. At the end of each row, she tosses her pile to the ground, just like me. When we pass a plant smaller than its compatriots, she picks up the leader to see if it is dripping water, then nestles it right up to the base of the little plant. "There you go", says the little mum nanny, like she's spoon feeding some magic elixir that will transform the 50 pound weakling into Superman. I don't complicate her world view by telling her that mum probably needs LESS water, not MORE. That would be contradictory not only to the basic plant knowledge she has amassed in her young career, but also to her naturally tender heart.
|weedy mum pot|
Lizzie either runs between the three hoses we are using to water, or she slips her hand into mine and we walk, quickly, but companionably, from hose to hose. Then...its her turn to change the line. One hand with its fashionably painted turquoise nails grips the black poly pipe: the other tries clockwise and then counterclockwise, until the water stops flowing through the brass shutoff...a mighty pull with accompanying grunt and.....pop! Out comes the hose bar as Lizzie in her flippy black skirt and hot pink shorts tumbles backward into the dewy grass. Just doin' my job, ma'am...she's up in a sec, turning left, or is it right? until I gently remind her which way we are headed in order to water dry plants...
Watering the mums is work because it takes hours to finish and can't be rushed. The main attraction of the day is still ahead and the reason her mommy says Lizzie LEAPT out of bed that morning: we are going to make blackberry jam. The blackberries in her aunt Lee's patches are thornless, so my only warning to Lizzie the day before was to wear something DARK, because working with berries...or working with Lizzie...is an invitation to dye oneself the glorious hues of nature. In this case: purple
The berries are big, despite the dry weather, so after numerous eeks, squeaks, and discussion of the distinction between "ripe"and "squishy", we have nearly an ice cream bucket full. Off to the kitchen where Lizzie takes to smashing the berries to pulp with great enthusiasm. She's a natural.
Aaron is back and joins to help, measuring out the nine cups of sugar for the five cups of juice and pulp Lizzie has extracted. Both kids are aghast at the thought of nine cups of sugar in anything; I reassure them that a piece of toast or a peanut butter sandwich with a generous helping of their homemade jam is a perfectly permissible dish for hard workin', hard playin' kids...and there's nothing wrong with a dollop of warm, not quite set blackberry jam on some vanilla ice cream either!!
Now we enter into the magic cauldron stage of the whole jam making process. Double bubble toil and trouble, mumbles the concoction in the pot, while I stir and the onlookers help me discern the magic moment when the boil "can no longer be stirred down". NOW! Foam erupts up the sides to be overpowered by the avalanche of sugar and subside into an even deeper hue now with an intense fruity fragrance. I stir...and we talk about how very very hot this jam is, hotter than 212 degrees, Aaron figures. The jars and jar lids clatter and jingle on the other two burners. Just a few more seconds of the "just one minute" and its time to can.
The familiar ritual is almost surgical....lift the jars, set the funnel, dip the cup and pour into the jar,remove the funnel, wipe the brim, grab a lid with the tongs, tighten the lid with the wash cloth. Finally, into the canning rack until the last of the setting jam is scraped from the kettle. It has cooled enough that Lizzie and Aaron get the last spoonfuls to savor.
When the jars come out of the boiling water bath, Lizzie has already chosen the jar they will take home; it is a pint jar with the band printed with colorful peaches. When the lid pops and after it cools, she writes on it with her Sharpie :
The jar is still hot when she takes it home.
As we were watering that morning, out of the blue, Lizzie says,"Grandma, when I am a Grandma, will you be in heaven?" It is really more a statement of fact than a question and I tell her yes. Whether or not Lizzie, or any of the other grandkids, follow up on their childhood wishes to "work here when I grow up', they will have grown up working here, alongside their moms, dads, siblings, cousins, and, yes, their grandmas and grandpas, too. They will have days of sweat, dirt, pain, and frustration while they work with us, but they will have days like this one has been, too: a day that Grandma Lizzie will remember, I hope, and some day tell her little people about watering mums, picking berries, and making purple jam with her grandma years before.