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Heirloom Seeds

January 17, 2010

This is a little different ~ not a recipe, but a memory brought to life by the seed catalogs filing my mailbox right now.  I hope you enjoy it.

Each year, as the earth spun her garden patch closer to the sun, my grandmother would flutter fly around town gathering dead seeds to resurrect in her mossy paradise. She filled old Mason jars with potential sunflowers, shiny black and as large as cats’ eyes, some rescued from the crows and some purchased at Southern States, and lined them up on the salvage wood shelves of her cellar. Walls and walls of cold dirty glass jars foreshadowing deep walls of golden homegrown pride.

At the bottom of steps going down to the cellar was a dilapidated cabinet that she had learned to make bread on as a girl. The breadboard itself was ugly and uninteresting at a glance; its heritage undone by dust crusted milk paint. The larger of the three doors didn’t open to the side, but pulled forward revealing a large, rusty tin hopper used to store flour that could be milled out onto the porcelain board below by cranking the red wooden handle barely seen beneath. Once, I put an old tomcat in that hopper and he nearly ate me alive when I attempted to retrieve him. She grabbed the cat up by the skin of his neck and tossed us both out into the sunshine.

I should have put the cat in the hopper at the bottom where sugar would have been stored, but as a rule, it contained small wild-eyed potatoes awaiting burial or layers of chicken wire separating musty tubers that didn’t root the first time around. “Dormant does not mean dead,” she said once while scratching this-or-that with an old peppermint scented pocketknife she kept in her sweater pocket, along with tissues and candy, for just that kind of thing or for scraping the earth out from under her fingernails.

The rest of the cabinet was covered with more jars. Mason jars and Bell jars and mayonnaise jars containing dried beans and peas or the pods of various highly coveted flowers and even roadside daisy hitchhikers collected from the pants legs of children and dog ears as well as the previous year’s pickles and tomatoes. She was a master preserver who dragged laundry baskets of her harvest to the local cannery to put up hundreds of gallons of food that would never be eaten. Sealed jars of beefsteaks and brandywines resided in every cupboard providing endless hours of entertainment for my baby brother who shook them like bloody snowglobes, watching the meaty particles dance, red-on-red, until they clotted at the bottom with silent thud. She paid it no mind.

The future of all her toiling was of little personal consequence, her passion was in the moment, in the preserving itself – in saving and prolonging, in avoiding the inevitable. The mere suggestion that her collection might someday be considered “heirloom” would have elicited a guffaw and a twitch of her thin, miserable lips.  It was simply what she did.

As a teenager, she had raised up her four sisters alone after her parents died at a time in this country when it wasn’t the right thing to do, but the only thing.   A long marriage to a railroad man who would die of cancer and four sons later, she was as tough as hide and just as bruised with little to offer in the way other grandmothers entertained their grandchildren. Sadly, it wasn’t until she was dead and I was grown that I realized that what she had given me was much more valuable.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tanya permalink
    January 18, 2010 7:13 am

    She reminds me of my dear great-grandmother who just passed away this year at 95 years old. She once declared chicken was for dinner and as I followed her she went to straight to the coop, grabbed one, took it to a stump and chopped it’s head off with an ax. Needless to say, I was a little disgusted and shocked at the time as a kid but now look back on it and remember her grit and strength and all the other great qualities that made her quite a woman.

  2. pen2sword permalink
    March 3, 2010 9:51 am

    Wow.
    That’s all I can say.
    OK, I *can* say more. This is great, descriptive, captivating writing. Just really, really good.

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