I wake early, release the exuberantly-expectant, tail-wiggling new pup from her cage and out the back door into the cool summer morning. I follow her out, my excitement not near equaling hers, into my Southern California orchard. I am immersed in the overwhelming grace of God and man and nature and accidental intention. The peach tree limb has fallen over with the weight of its sunrise-colored fruit. The apple trees are bursting, taunting me; I am merely a powerless human.
I pick excessively and with little deliberation. I can be patient. The air is still cool enough; the choking summer heat begins on the other side of the house and has not yet reached these limbs. Inside, I begin the fruit processing. In the hour it takes to prepare the sun-ripened fruit, the coffee brews invitingly, the children wake groggily, the pup wags incessantly, the cat skulks in regally. My hands, along with the countertop, bowls, knives, and cutting boards are soon slippery with decimated fruit and errant seeds. Now the canner heats, the jars steam, the fruit begins to bubble, the sugar folds in, the liquid gels and boils furiously. With wickedly deft hands, I scoop and plop, scoop and plop, into a dozen willing crystal jars, glinting in the morning light.
Through it all, I think about Caroline Engalls. I think about her tireless faith, her endless stitchery, her countless strands of loose hair tucked under her night-time bonnet. The truth is, you see, there is no need in the Year of Our Lord 2012 to preserve this fruit, because I can buy perfected jam in the conveniently-located grocery store and less expensively than this process. Caroline Engalls preserved her fruit in order to save her prairie family from starvation come wintertime. Come wintertime, I will simply return to the grocery store, assuming everything.
Through it all, I think of my nephews who I cannot save. I think of the intrinsic damage that has already been done to them. At ages 8 and 6, after two hostile divorces and two international moves, they consciously use the word “betrayal” in their everyday vocabulary. Misunderstanding the concept of trust, they cautiously pause to consider my husband’s word play before answering him. They often flail out violently against one another in anger. Every game is competitive. The younger one cannot read. The older one cannot keep his tongue.
But I am a powerless human. I stand witness to the endless buffeting betwixt their parents and the only constant in their lives: dumping dumping dumping. They are dumped with the nanny, they are dumped at summer camp, they are dumped in the hands of their educators. They listen to the emotional dumping of each parent against the other. They watch the dumping of their possessions as they move and shift, back and forth, again and again, scoop and plop. The amount of waste is deplorable.
If only I could put them in this willing crystal jar. If only I could immerse them in the overwhelming grace of God and man and nature and accidental intention. If only I could preserve some remnant of this, their sunrise-colored childhood, so that they might someday, in some quiet prairie way, be able to return to the seeds and roots from which they were borne, come wintertime.