In search of story


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.

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.