I had coffee with Lila the other day. Leaves whispered down in red and gold and because it was just past breakfast, a white moon stood high in the sky. There was a sharpness to the air, a hint of winter heading our way.
“Did I ever tell you about my mother?” Lila asked. “My mother canned anything. Beans, jam, tomato sauce, creamed corn. Once she tried pickled eggs, though I wouldn’t recommend them. About this time very year she’d take a visitor to the basement, to the cold storage, and show off her work: a whole wall, floor to ceiling, of jars lined up on gray pine boards, a whole wall, farther from side to side than a full-grown man could stretch his arms. Don’t that beat all?”
I admitted that it did.
“I guess people are coming around to canning again. It’s about time, is all I have to say. I remember my mother standing over a steaming pot of water, lifting in the jars and then lifting them out again. She used a bent hanger for that. She’d never think of buying something you could just fashion for yourself. And then she’d lean against the counter listening for the ping of the lids when the pressure would let off. I think she took a great deal of pleasure from that sound.
“All summer long she’d gather information about food. If someone said they’d seen wild grapes somewhere, say out on a county road or along a golf course, she’d make a mental note. And then a day or two later she’d gather up whoever was around and off we’d go with buckets to collect the fruit. Wild grapes, elderberries, crabapples. And on the way, if we passed a farm stand where they were selling green beans or corn, she’d buy up a load. I think she must have been up many a late night putting away fruits and vegetables.
“She always grew tomatoes, those Italian kind, that make such juicy, thick sauce. And cucumbers of course, so she could put up pickles and relish. One year she planted a few watermelon. Ooh, they were sweet. And she turned the rind into pickles. Nothing went to waste in my mother’s house. The following February we all joked about the watermelons and how we went two weeks eating watermelon breakfast, lunch, and dinner the summer before. And there we were in February, eating watermelons for lunch and dinner all over again.
“They say you are what you eat. I don’t know what they mean by that, but what I think of is my mother’s cooking. I ate Franklin County: beans, grapes, corn, tomatoes, apples. That makes me Franklin County, doesn’t it?
“Let me tell you: Franklin County is good.
“I’m not saying I’m good, nothing like that. But maybe I’m delicious!”