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The Last Jar of Jelly

As summer turns into fall, the blackberry vines which punctuate our country property begin to shrivel and die. I have a love/hate relationship with these intrusive weeds. When they first emerge in the spring, I resolve to eliminate them by any means possible, but as the ground warms, the runners spread in an invisible invasion. By Mother’s Day, the vines begin to sprout white flowers and my thoughts turn to the harvest. In the hottest dog days of summer, the berries appear, quickly turning from red to a deep purple. I don gloves and a long sleeve shirt as protection from the ever--present thorns, risk nasty bites from the chiggers, and make my way into the wild garden. I fill my bucket with the bounty, destined for the freezer, motivated by the promise of cobbler at Thanksgiving..

The berries always remind me of Momma. She took the picking seriously, seeking out the juiciest as she paused on occasion to pop one into her mouth. As a child, I often tagged along, whining about the heat and bugs. But she was quick to remind me that they would be transformed into something delicious. That always seemed to appease me.

The next morning, I would sit in the kitchen and watch as she retrieved the big canning pot from the top shelf of the pantry and lined up the sterilized jars like soldiers patiently waiting to be pressed into service. It was the one day a year set aside for making her special blackberry jelly.

Mom never settled on making jam, which utilized the whole fruit, including seeds. Instead, she would squeeze the berries through a clean white cheesecloth until she had extracted pure purple liquid that she would magically transform into the most amazingly sweet creation. She proudly put the jars away for special gifts and hot biscuits. If she had calculated correctly, there was enough to last until the ritual was repeated a year later.

I suppose that she somehow ended up with a few extra jars that added to the annual stockpile because when she passed away, we discovered dozens, which we saved for special occasions and holiday brunches. And each time my family and I shared Momma’s blackberry jelly, we felt her presence smiling down on us. It was comforting, a brief respite from the grief of losing her. The day we opened the last jar was bittersweet as it marked the end of something so very special.

Sadly, I never learned how to make it, much to my family's dismay. Store bought never tastes as good. But every summer when the blackberries turn purple. I am reminded of how hard my momma worked to produce something wonderful for those she loved. Memories become important when the person with whom you shared those moments is gone. And while we will often define a legacy as a finite inheritance, I think it is much more than that. What still bears fruit in another’s life… that is your legacy. I wonder what mine will be?


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