Oddments

In search of story


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Putting by, part one

Do you know about “putting by”? The animals do. The mornings now sparkled by frost, winter looms nearer, and the beasties know that food is everything: eat, drink, and put by.

The nimble bee in the October garden feels the urgency.
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As the marigolds crinkle into seed pods, he twists among the petals, seeking summer leftovers, some for him and some for his family, no doubt. I picture tiny Mason jars put by in the hive, and I am transported immediately to our old fruit cellar.

It was a ghastly place, closed off from the basement by a wooden door straight from “Alice in Wonderland”; as you stepped up into the cellar through that shortened door, you became instantly too big and had to duck to avoid concussion from the ceiling. A bare lightbulb with dinky chain hung about two feet from your forehead. Straight ahead, a window with a murky view of grass. To your right, shelves with Mason jars. To your left, a cramped subterranean dungeon with neglectibles and more shelves. Another bare bulb. Jaundiced newspaper shelf-liners. Crawling things with many legs. It was damp, cold, and creepy.

Everything Mom and Grandma put by was kept in the cellar. Thus the rows of home-canned green beans and freestone peaches, the beans a putrid don’t-eat-me color, and the peaches ever summery. You may believe that absolutely nothing erases the memory of green-beans-gone-bad in a creepy fruit cellar. Putting by had its risks, both gastric and visual, and, for all its virtues of frugality and (usually) flavor, home-canned was not mourned when it gave way to store-bought — not in our house.

But there was more to putting by. Another post, another day.