My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction, awarded the Moonbeam Silver Medal for Young Adult Fiction, and awarded the 2016 Frank Yerby Award for Fiction. Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazon.
Hardworking though she was, Mama canned little from the big garden we grew every year. The houses we rented back in the fifties almost always had garden spots. Mama had no pressure canner, but neither did most of our country relatives. They simply boiled the filled jars in the wash pot for a couple of hours. “Aren’t you afraid the food will still have germs in it?” I asked my mother’s mother one day. She laughed. “Honey, if they was as many germs as they claim, we’d all be dead!”
Pessimist that she was, my mother probably thought there were more germs than they claimed. Anyway, she only ever canned a few green beans that she knew we’d eat within the next couple of weeks—or less. But all our country relatives canned and at any family gathering the women liked to brag about their current tallies of vegetables canned for winter. Aunt Thelma was particularly aggressive about this and one year she got Mama’s dander up by saying, “I can’t believe you don’t put up some of your garden, Nell.”
As it happened, we had a bumper crop of beautiful tomatoes that year. Mama kept looking at them the following week, and saying things like, “Boy! It would sure burn Thelma if I beat her on tomatoes this year.” Then she was saying, “They say tomatoes keep better than other canned stuff, being they got a lot of acid in ‘em. I keep hearing people claim you don’t have to have a canner for them.” Finally, she said to Daddy, “George, get me some canning jars. I’m putting up tomatoes. I’m gonna show thelma a thing or two.”
Mama filled 72 jars of those beautiful tomatoes. We lined them up against the walls of the kitchen and just stood back and admired them. Even Daddy was impressed enough to pat Mama on the shoulder. “Guess that’ll show Thelma!”
Daddy’s compliments were few and far between, so I guess Mama didn’t know how to deal with them. She shrugged off the praise. “We’ll see how they eat.”
The next day she wrote Thelma a postcard, casually saying at the end, “Well, the garden is doing good. Particular the tomatoes. So far I’ve put up 72 qts.” After the postman had picked up the card, Mama said, “I wish I’d invited Thelma and Bob to come and spend the day.”
As things turned out, it was probably a good thing she didn’t. A couple weeks later an explosion jolted us all awake in the middle of the night. Daddy hadn’t gotten over his army training days when he heard explosions and gunfire every day. He bellowed, “What in the hellfire is that!” Then we heard him running for the kitchen.
Mama didn’t answer. Maybe she already suspected what had happened.
A blast of cursing erupted in the kitchen. “Something cut my foot!” Daddy yelled.“ Then came a second and a third explosion. “Good Lord a-mighty!”
Don’t move, George,” said Mama, pulling the light chain in the front bedroom and putting on her shoes. All four of us kids were at the kitchen door when Mama pulled the chain on the kitchen light. There was Daddy in his underwear and undershirt, surrounded with red liquid and glittering shards of glass. Red was dripping from the walls. Some was dripping from Daddy too.
Mama was crying. “My tomatoes are blowing up”.
“I’m about to blow up,” Daddy yelled. “I’m over here bleeding to death, and you’re blubbering over tomatoes. Get me a rag.”
Several months later at a family gathering, Thelma asked Mama how her supply of tomatoes was holding out.
That’s when Daddy redeemed himself for a lot of past sins. “They been gone,” he said, winking at Mama. “Kids couldn’t get enough of ‘em. I told the Old Lady not to fool with putting ‘em up no more. They didn’t even last ’til cold weather!”