Our back yard had a grape arbor, and our basement had an ancient stove. Our family had a mother and a grandmother. And that’s how we came to have the deep purple putting-by.
Magnificent Concord grapes — taut-skinned purple ping-pong balls, many-seeded, deadly messy — grew on the arbor. When those grapes drooped for harvest, we knew that it was time for jelly-making. Word went out: run for your lives!
Mom and her mother, the grandma you have met here previously, donned their grape hazmat suits, clothing already stained beyond redemption, and started picking. From arbor to basement, where the labor-intensive business of turning grapes to jelly transpired in a sweaty explosion of purple splotch and purple words. Grapes were cooked and strained — as were Mom and Grandma. The purple inexorably seeped from fingernail to shoulder while splatting spontaneously here and there. The heat from the boiling grapes and the melting wax and the sterilized jars, the stickiness, the trips up and down stairs, the overwhelming purplization of life did not make for a peaceable kingdom.
And did those two women enjoy any part of this domestic industry? Not that I could tell. The jelly was flavored by warfare.
I think that’s when I started asking WHY? Why did they do that every year? They hated the work and hated the mess and hated each other — or so it seemed to me. Eventually Welch’s was deemed good enough, and the grape vines were replaced by climbing roses. Mom and Grandma stopped putting by. But they never stopped being mother and daughter. Like the grape vines twisted tightly in on themselves, like the eternally infernally messy grapes, mothers and daughters.
There’s a fruit cellar in my head where memories have been put by. Some are green beans, some peaches, some grape jelly.