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May is for Mothers

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May is a very special month. Winter is long gone and spring has already ripened into maturity. The daffodils have long withered, the fruit trees are steadily plumping up their yield, and the roses are in full bloom. Earth’s womb is full and joyful and Mother Nature is hard at work. It is for good reason that this is the month we honor our mothers. I would like to dedicate this month’s article to my wonderful mom.

I know I often credit my Gramma Filomeo, on my dad’s side, for much of my garden inspiration. But without the basic gardening and cooking experience from my mom when we were growing up, we would probably have starved to death. From my very first memories, we always had a garden. My dad did most of the planting and watering but my mom was in charge of all the harvesting, preparation and preservation. 

My mom would drag me out of bed on a Saturday morning and threaten me with sale to a traveling circus if I didn’t get out to the orchard to pick the apricots and peaches. I prayed for a blight on all the farm fruit so we could just buy it canned. But the cold, hard truth was, we couldn’t afford it. Things such as purchased canned fruit and spaghetti sauce were luxuries that would not stretch far enough to feed a family of seven. And heaven forbid that one tomato should go to waste! Nothing went to waste that could be salvaged and canned, frozen, dried, pickled, cured or made into jam.

Although I dreaded canning day growing up, I somehow grew to appreciate not only the process and satisfaction from the fruits of my labor, but the time I spent in the kitchen with my mom. Working together, side by side, talking about those things that were important to us at the time, or just enjoying short pauses of companionable silence. My mom’s a wonderful listener; having raised five kids, one would certainly expect as much. 

I always relished the satisfying pop from a cooling jar on the counter and was assured that another jar of tomatoes would be safely stored away in the cellar for the long winter months ahead. The gem-colored array of home-canned fruits and veggies, jams, jellies and pickles, which lined the kitchen countertops in neat rows, might have been considered just so much clutter by some. However, they were the masterpieces of my mother’s trade. Brimming with all sorts of culinary gadgetry, empty jars of all proportions, and more often than not, a ceiling-high pile of unwashed dishes, the kitchen was my mother’s domain. 

As a child, it seemed like a torture chamber, as I lay in my bed, listening to her moving about her realm, busily clearing the counter, preparing for a full day of canning. Pulling the covers over my head, I could visualize her at the stove, the craftswoman laying out the tools of her trade. I remember watching her and wondering if I would ever be as adept at the task as she. Although a diminutive woman, she seemed to fill the kitchen as she applied her expertise. She became the artist as she deftly scooped the steaming fruit into the hot, sterilized jars. Much the way a sculptor adds the finishing touches to her masterpiece, she would skillfully arrange the fruit in the jar to best enhance the aesthetic appeal. The house may be a mess, and Lord only knows what’s for dinner, but those peaches wouldn’t wait till tomorrow. And, they had to be pretty in the jar.

Not having lived on the farm for many years now, nor having so many mouths to feed, has certainly relieved my mom of those chores. She still occasionally makes pickles from her small backyard garden and enjoys making orange marmalade from her own orange tree with her church friends. And of course, she still preserves olives and even passed on that ritual to me just this past year. However, even those things have come to a stop for my mom since she has been recovering from knee replacement surgery. She’s definitely a tough old bird at 88 years of age, but the physical pain in her leg and the frustration in her heart from being wheelchair-bound and then bedridden for so many months has left her feeling hopeless and in despair. She frets over not being able to get out in her yard and plant her tomatoes and trim her hydrangeas. Although the five of us do our best to help out, she’s upset that her small gardens are not being watered properly and the weeds are out of control.

I do my best to help boost her spirits by keeping her abreast of all the gardening goings-on and improvements happening at the farm. I show her photos of the new puppies and their comical antics and the progress on the new greenhouse we’re building. I take her bouquets of fragrant roses and cartons of colorful eggs and show her Instagram posts of my newly hatched baby chicks. I tell her she better keep up her exercises to improve her mobility so she can come out to the farm and help me pick peppers. 

We put up a bench swing in the pecan trees here at the farm last year, where she loved to sit and gaze out into the cherry orchards. I tell her she’d better hurry up and get back on her feet because the swing is waiting. And there are cherries—lots and lots of cherries. And I’m going to need help pitting and freezing them for future pies. Yes, Mother, May is for all things blooming and the promise of an abundant summer, so get up and get that new knee in shape. There is much to be done and much to be thankful for, and I pray that you’ll soon be up and around to enjoy it all. Happy and blessed Mother’s Day to all!

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