Just as the sight of the Cuckoo Man in late Spring heralds Summer, the sight of the farmer herding his three cows into the field by our house signals the end of Summer and the unstoppable arrival of Fall. I was in the process of making jam when I saw him out on the road with a big white stick in his hand as he belted and guided the cows to follow the path over the hedgerow and up to the boggy terrain beyond the boundary of our property. I am certain that he does it on the same day each year like a clockwork of sorts. As I say I was in the process of jam making and that alone takes great precision. There are the berries to be weighed along with the sugar and in my case, apples to be cored and pared. Jars to be sterilised. I followed the instructions as I have to, as it is only an annual affair, I forget the method from year to year. But I could see that my patience and diligence paid off as the berries started to congeal with the sugar and the apples broke down to add substance. I have also discovered that patience is the key to making Jam. Sunday is a good day, routine is not adhered to so much and so I had plenty of time to contemplate the process.
Today was interesting. One because my mother died on this day six years ago. I remember getting the phonecall. I felt relief to hear that she had left this world. She was in great suffering and her dignity had been taken from her. I preferred to remember her as she was, with memories of her making Strawberry Jam in her kitchen, testing the gelling process on chipped blue saucers that she had taken out of the freezer, to place the boiling jam on their surface to see if it had set. And so this morning I went to the garden to pick some Sweet Pea to take to her grave. They were her favourite flowers. What I saw disappointed me, six measly blooms all the worse from the recent wind. Nonetheless I picked them and stole around the garden gathering some token flowers, a splash of red, a white daisy, several sprigs of lavender. I bound them together in tin foil and drove to the graveyard. It was grim and grey and lonely. Two women ambled up and down the aisles of gravestones as if searching for a lost relative. They looked at me with a half smile and went on their way. The flowers on my mother's grave that I left last July were fading and I thought even the gold engraving of her name looked discoloured but I found a stone to hold the bouquet, that I had for her, in place and left them there in her memory. I didn't feel sad. I felt a little lonely but I knew that she was with me in a strange way. She was with me as I watched the farmer herd his cows and with me when I picked the last few token Sweet Pea and she was with me when I poured the jam into the jars and as I intentionally lined them up on the windowsill so that the light would enhance their quality and beauty. Their voluptuous burgundy sparkle. I know she stood back with me and admired the bounty.
Everything is cyclical. Everything is beautiful. Everything has its place. Everything turns. I can't see the cows tonight. They must be seeking shelter underneath a lone tree, settling themselves down until another day dawns, but I know they are there, breathing coils of steam that rise and fall, as they wait for the encroachment of night.
© Mary Wilkinson, 2009