Sunday, August 24, 2008


Buoyed by our success with peaches, Katie and I decided to can salsa—her favorite of her four personal food groups.

It is 8:00 pm by the time we put the water on to boil and get out our knives. The spots and specs on the organic tomatoes creep Katie out, so I'm on my own for the peeling portion of the program.

Skins loosened by a quick dip in boiling water, tomatoes look oddly vulnerable. Naked. Poke them with one finger, rake out their seeds, cast them aside. No longer shaped from within or without, they become something else: pulp.

Earlier we talked about the next step in the search for her birth mother. Laughing, we agree who'll do what. Laughing, Katie tells me that when she finds her birth mother, she won't need me anymore. Laughing, I say, "Yep. I'll be Skipper and you'll have a brand-new Barbie."

Katie stops laughing. "I won't do this if you don't want me to, Mom."

Katie drops naked tomatoes into the Cuisinart and pushes Pulse. Onion, jalapenos, cilantro, mustard seeds. Pulse. Pulse. Pulse.  Together, we transfer the salsa into a dutch oven waiting on the stovetop and check the jars waiting in the dishwasher. Good. They're still hot. The lids and rings dance in boiling water at the back of the stove. Here's the ladle. There's the funnel. The salsa's boiling. Everything's ready.

I step to the stove and start to pick up the ladle. "I'll do it," Katie says. She takes the lead, ladling hot salsa into jars then handing them to me to be wiped and covered. When we're finished, she checks the lids, tightening a few just like I did with the peaches.

We submerge the jars in boiling water, set the timer, and retreat to our usual places in the living room to watch a classic movie, Stand By Me.

35 minutes later, the timer dings. River Phoenix freezes mid-sob as we return to the kitchen to pull eleven jars of blood red salsa from the scalding water. Lined up in rows on the counter, they're beautiful. 

Back in our chairs, we restart the movie. The room is dark other than the moonlight streaming in the windows and the flicker of the television. Four boys run across a bridge, desperately trying to outrun a freight train. 

Plink! It's the unmistakable sound of a seal forming as the jars cool. (That's one.)  On the screen, the boys eat $2.37 worth of dinner, apparently enough for a feast in 1959. (Two!) They get covered with leeches (Three! Four! Five!), find the body (Six! Seven! Eight!), and face down a gang of older boys (Nine! Ten!). 

The movie fades to black. Katie and I sit in the dark, waiting for that last plink, the last signal we've succeeded and our salsa is perfectly preserved, safe for years to come. 

Finally, we decide one jar failed. It will have to be used immediately or thrown out. "We have plenty even without that one," Katie says. We put our glasses into the dishwasher and straighten things up a bit, then head to our bedrooms. Katie crosses the living room, then turns and crosses back. I stop at my bedroom door, waiting to see what she needs. 

My daughter throws her arms around my neck and says, "Thanks for everything, Mom. I love you."

Plink!  The sound of the last jar sealing reverberates through the darkness. We laugh and hug again.

"I love you, too, Sweetheart. For always and for ever."


riversgrace said...

This is beautiful, Jerri. A beautifully lived life with your daughter....which is amazing. And that you are aware of it is the enlightenment.

So well written...

Carrie Wilson Link said...

COL, totally COL-ing. Simply beautiful - all of it.

Deb said...

Perfect timing happens with perfect patience. This is perfect writing!

kario said...

I love this. The girls and I spent the weekend canning peaches and making blackberry jam with my mother. Even at six and eight, the girls seemed to understand the magic of this process and stood at the sink for an hour and a half pitting and peeling sixty pounds of peaches without a single complaint.

Love you!

Go Mama said...

Perfect day, perfectly detailed and preserved. Take an A!

Doubting Thomas said...

Beautiful story.

Steph said...

Definitely sounds like a classic "Katie & Jerri" :) I love the both of you and you are an angel in both of our lives. I liked this one. xoxo