You taught me many things, Mom. Most of the time I go along living my life, oblivious to the many ways you influenced me. Once in awhile something like a bag of shiny, beautiful apples will look me in the face and make me stop and think.
All the years that I was a part of your life, you lived in Arkansas, Mom. While being from the south is, without question, superior in many regards, easy access to fresh fruits and luscious gardens isn't one of them. You loved to garden and toiled tirelessly in spite of inevitable drought, poor soil and pesky bugs. You canned and froze and served fresh, and not once did we ever go hungry.
But this is what I learned from you, Mom -- you made do with what you had. If the corn produced little (as often was the case) but the green beans were prolific; we ate green beans. If an early frost nipped the peach trees we did without peaches. Because strawberries were expensive and blackberries were free, we spread our bread with blackberry jelly. I don't remember you ever once making a batch of strawberry jam, are you sure you were a true Mennonite, Mom?
English peas didn't do well, so we ate purple hull peas and zipper peas and lima beans. My brothers will testify to gaining pill swallowing skills because of the need to consume those loathsome limas. We ate okra because it grew and pears from the old pear tree on the odd years that it produced. On those years we were all expected to try new things like pear butter and pear and pineapple jam because -- you know, free food.
You were always willing to use what was available, Mom. When Ervin Dorothy had squash, you canned it. When someone offered you peaches from their scrubby little trees, you froze them. If there were strawberries available, we enjoyed them. And when it was time to can applesauce, you never stressed over Jonathons or Cortlands or Golden Delicious or Ginger Golds. You didn't insist on brown sauce or pale yellow or pink; you took what was available. I will never forget the year of the ugly red apples and the tasteless pink sauce.
It was me who needed apples that year, Mom, and me who had no money for being choosy. When a church lady's neighbor offered apples, free for the taking, we took them. We loaded up baskets and buckets of the spotted, red things and you came over to lend a hand. They sure weren't the prettiest apples nor the biggest. But we cut and snipped and cooked and when the applesauce came forth all pink and tasteless, you cheerfully added sugar and cinnamon and whatever else we could think of and called it good.
Today I thought of you, Mom, as I sliced up my beautiful, spot-free apples. As the sauce came out, all golden and tangy-sweet, I remembered. And I thanked God for a mother like you who taught me to make do with what you have. I also breathed a quiet thank you that this year it was shiny Ginger Golds.