For as long as I can remember, my mother canned pickles. Sweet pickles, bread-and-butter pickles, dill pickles - rarely was a meal ever served at our house that didn't include a Mason jar of Mother's homemade pickles.
Not even the smallest step was forgotten when my mother made pickles. Each jar was properly scalded and readied. The cucumbers were grown from Mother's beloved kitchen garden, and after they had soaked adequately in the brine that filled an army of crocks and dishpans, they could be packed in jars one by one with Mother's careful hands and tightly sealed. Each jar truly represented a labor of love.
One particular summer evening Mother and I were together in the kitchen, having just finished washing and drying the dinner dishes. She was lifting the corner of a neatly placed dishtowel to take another peek at the dozen or so pickle jars cooling on the stove. Her labor evidenced by a Band-Aid wrapped around a burned finger and an aggravating splinter stubbornly stuck in her hand, she awkwardly carried on her tasks. At the same moment Mother was raising the dishtowel, the young man who had stolen my heart was sitting nervously in our living room, asking my daddy if he could marry me.
With Daddy's "yes" secured, a fall wedding was planned and the preparation began. Mother spent endless hours sewing. Bridal showers were given and thank-you notes written. my future in-laws invited us over for a celebration dinner where of course, Mother brought a prize jar of her pickles for the grand occasion.
Over the years, my husband taught me to appreciate Mother's treat that I had so long taken for granted. The homemade pickles were of a bygone era, and I never seemed to find the time or desire to make them myself. But tuna fish sandwiches tasted better with Mama's pickles, my husband's grilled hamburgers weren't complete without them, and a proper Christmas dinner always included a crystal dish of the homemade pickles.
Right now I have a jar of Mother's pickles displayed in my pantry. I don't know when- or if- I will ever open them. For every time I look at them, my saddened heart aches for my mother's company. I think of the wonderful influence she had on my two sons when they were small, and how she wholeheartedly shared my joys and my sorrows. I'd always felt comfort in knowing that I could pick up the telephone any time to ask her opinion on any subject, and she often kindly just listened to me as I rambled on. She was dear friend, and I miss the gifts of time and energy she so generously gave.
My childhood gifts to her- a lopsided plaster hand print plate, a dimestore-bought bird figurine, a red rose vase- unfailing assumed a place of honor in Mother's living room. She owned much nicer keepsakes to display and I never could quite understand why she insisted on displaying my clumsy gifts instead. But I have a feeling that years from now, even as my mother is long gone, Mother will understand why a blue Mason jar of her homemade pickles still sits proudly in my pantry.