In the fall, when my tree’s branches sagged under the weight of green apples, grandma visited. When it came to sweets, grandma knew best. Refusing to succumb to “prebaked crust,” she always made her own. She was the only grown up that kept her head when the ginger bread house collapsed. When my family decided to make apple pies and apple sauce, she was the first person we called.
By the time grandma arrived, my family and I harvested all the apples; our tree had produced three cartons worth (about two hundred apples.) Some bore impurities, from worm holes to soft, hazel bruises.
She put us to work. I divided the apples into groups: perfect and imperfect. We cut the former apples into angular bits for pies, while the later were mashed for sauce. Grandma oversaw the pie making process with a sharp eye. At first, she was inclined to bake all the crusts by hand, but when this proved a tedious task, she bowed to pre-made crust. Every so often I’d hear a low growl: “god dam dough boy.”
I grew taller than grandma in the fifth grade. At 4’10” with size 3 and a half feet, one might think she was just another “cutesy do-good” grandma. But she had another side. She grew up on a farm in Vermont, raised five kids nearly by herself. And thrived after a quadruple bypass surgery. So when push came to shove, she could shove. She possessed a dry, sarcastic humor mixed with an appreciation for swearing. I use to charge her twenty five cents a swear word, until one day she handed me five dollars, and said, “Here’s for the weekend.” Followed by a curt: “nice doing business with you.”
After the cutting, mashing, and crusting, it came time to seal the apple sauce jars and bake the pies. The sealing process involves putting the apple sauce in a jar, then boiling it until the air is released, and the jar seals. My grandma spent days baking the pies. During that period, I awoke to the smell of Dutch apple pie wafting through my room. Grandma always slipped me bites for breakfast.
At the end of the week we finished. My family and Grandma stocked our fridge with fourteen jars of apple sauce and a dozen pies. We gave a few to our friends and neighbors. The next several dinners ended with warm pie and French vanilla ice cream. Midnight snacks consisted of apple sauce and a dash of cinnamon.
I ate the last jar of apple sauce a year ago. I found it in the back corner of my cabinet. The seal popped when I twisted the cap, signifying its freshness. Soon, I was eating two year old, preserved apple sauce.
My Grandma died three months later. As her memory fades, I wish there was something I could cling to. I wish I had that last jar.
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