This morning was not starting off well. I woke up with a pounding headache. The light coming in the bedroom and adjacent kitchen window was searing my retinas, so I rolled back over and put a pillow over my face. My fella had been up for a few minutes. He made coffee, and had just opened the basement door to go downstairs to do laundry. The next 6-7 words (though technically the same word repeated with different levels of alarm, dismay, and heartbreak) yanked me from bed, vertical, in pants, and behind him on the steps in mere seconds.
Apparently, most likely yesterday while we were both at work, the beer shelf (recently stocked with 48 bottles of home-brewed magical-ness) had catastrophically failed. In it’s fall, it appears to have grabbed onto the lesser stocked shelf of home-canned things, mostly jams, jellies, and some store bought canned goods. The result looked like an explosion at a glass factory. There were broken bottles from one side of the basement to the other, glass shards of all color and size. There was actually something strangely beautiful in all that jagged color and shine….but then the cleanup.
Full jam jars apparently don’t shatter, but might possibly bounce. In total, the episode could have been far worse. Only three bottles of beer met their demise, along with one single quart of pasta sauce, the tall glass cylinder that used to house our kitchen betta, and.. . . . .my great grandmother’s pickle making jar. I lost myself for a moment. I’d only been it’s caretaker for a year and I had failed it. I had failed her. In those shards of the tall antique 1 gallon jar were her labors for her family, my mother’s time and energy for us, and the one and only time I used it to make an age old recipe last summer. It’s easy to say it’s only a jar, but in that moment it was the weight of posterity.
In my mind I can see Ethel just shaking her head as if it’s of no matter, wiping her hands on the tattered apron she always had on. My childhood mind remembers her house as if it was landing on a different planet. I can remember going to the outhouse, and the eventual addition of a toilet. That was around the same time we were forced to stop playing in the creek because Appalachian plumbing didn’t always include a septic tank. They raised and killed their own animals, some of which were not too friendly. I recall one rooster, in particular who would chase and spur all of the kids until we were bleeding and left them alone. No one wore shoes. Over time you learned how far out the chestnut tree (yes, a real chestnut tree) could throw it’s sharply spined seeds. Until you learned, you hobbled crying to momma for help digging the spines out of your feet. There was mud. Lots of mud. There was no Kool-aid or Coke. There was a pitcher of raw milk, separated into layers of milk and the cream that would later be made into butter. If you wanted water, you pumped it straight from the well spigot. I remember the pickle jar on the shelf directly above that spigot.
It’s so different now. We live in a disposable age. If something breaks we have the culturally endorsed convenience to simply go purchase another. Many products are manufactured so poorly as to need replacement, thus insuring consumers purchase more. My great grandmother didn’t live in that time. She used and reused everything. To all things there were numerous purposes, and they were purposed until their time was done. Using her jar was part of my attempt to restore that aspect of her lifestyle into my own. I didn’t fail her. I didn’t fail my mother, or myself. I’m just a sucker for the sentimentality of family and lifestyle, deeply yearning for simpler times.