Today is my mom’s birthday. I thought of Mom over breakfast, and again at the tire shop, but in an abstract way. Then I got an email from my mom’s oldest friend, and it pulled me up short. She wrote about how much she misses my mom, and how much my mom loved my brother and me. As hard as it is to be reminded how truly sad you are, it’s good, too. Because the intense sadness I feel this afternoon (which most other days just tints the world with a soft shade of blue) is a reminder that I still love my parents even though they’ve been gone for years, and that love lasts forever. As much as it sucks, it’s pretty comforting, too.
It’s been a little over 2 years since we lost Mom, but only 6 months since I ate any of her cooking. Amazing, right? That’s because of her jam. Her magical, delicious, always perfectly set jam. I took the last good jar of her jam camping with my brother and his family this spring. It seemed fitting to share with him and his boys. Her jam is in all of our blood, bones, muscles, it has nourished us all our lives. And now it is gone. I have another jar, but the seal is broken and the jam has changed color. I know not to eat it, but I can’t bring myself to throw it away. She hand-wrote the label.
I have always equated food with love, and it’s no accident. My parents were both good cooks, and did everything for us with so much love and sacrifice. I learned my early cooking techniques from Dad (basically, there’s nothing that cheese can’t fix). Later I became more like Mom, sort of following actual recipes. My mom cooked for us almost every day, but didn’t really love it. After we left home she ate a lot of English muffins with pb&j.
But jam, that jam was in her veins. She loved making it, and really loved eating it. She taught me to take pleasure in hard work, and then to pause and take pleasure in the results. And she was excited to share the jam with the family. It was one of the things she openly took pride in, and agreed with us that it was the best ever.
Nowadays, I’ve been trying to channel her instincts when I make jam. I’m not there yet, and I find myself so frustrated sometimes. That frustration turns to sadness when I can’t call Mom after I screw up. All I can do is keep trying. I didn’t know to look over Mom’s shoulder more, to follow her around the kitchen, to pay closer attention. We all have regrets that we can do nothing about now. That’s one of my biggest. In writing this post, I’ve just now realized I don’t even have any pictures of her making jam or cooking. How is that possible?
But I want to honor her memory by learning this. It’s been a big year for me, with a lot of changes, but I’m the most proud of how far my canning skills have come. Happy Birthday Mom, I miss you. Thanks for the jam.