©Evan Nichols, 2014

©Evan Nichols, 2014

The crabapple tree was heavy with sunset-pink crabapples. I asked my 77-year-old Grandmother one day, “Is there anything that can be made out of crabapples?” The fruit is so small, only about the size of a large marble, and very sour to the taste. I’d tried eating one once, they looked so ripe and untouched, each crabapple a small, glowing pinkish/red beacon. My mouth still puckers at the memory of the sharp, tart taste. “Why Kitten,” said my Grandmother in her West Virginia twang, “They’s plenty can be done with them sour love apples.” I loved the cadence of her voice, the hint of back roads and hollers and close-knit communities. I respected her love of all things home made, and her Great Depression code that nothing should ever be wasted. I craved her attention, which she generously gave me, without asking for anything but my presence as payment.

The following Saturday, my five-foot-five Grandma and I picked all of the crabapples we could reach. My heart beat fast as my spry Grandma stood on an old kitchen chair to reach what she deemed the “best ones” near the top of the tree. We gathered two large cardboard boxes of crabapples. We brought them into the kitchen, where we began the tedious process of washing, cutting, soaking, and mashing the seemingly bottomless boxes of crabapples. The patience of years of home cooking settled over my Grandmother’s body like a comfortable blanket. She began humming old songs from her childhood in the West Virginia mountains, and set a steady pace of gently cutting the flower bud end off each apple, washing it, and putting it in a large pot of warm water to soak. I took a deep breath and tried with all of my teenage restlessness to calm down and follow her example.

I thought making jelly would be all fun, and as the crabapple preparation became to seem like a road with no end, my Grandma gently, humorously, kept me at work by distracting me with stories of her girlhood. She told me about life on the farm, of gathering eggs to eat for breakfast, of doing laundry without electricity.

“I tell you Kitten, it would take all day a’ Saturday, and then you had to hope rain didn’t come afore you got the clothes off the line!” We talked about her husband, my Grandpa, twenty-three years her senior, who had been…”divorced”, a word she always whispered, and would then put her finger to her lips to let me know that this was not to be discussed or shared outside of the family. This alone seemed to give my Grandma a wistful sadness, probably because his death at age eighty-three had left her a widow at age sixty. She signed, and then said, “Well, I’ve been dating ever since, I just love dating! All the fun and none of the work of a marriage.” We talked about my life too, Grandma had a keen interest in my friends and activities and her questions made me feel that my daily dramas were important to her.

The crabapples seemed to magically prepare themselves as my wise Grandma kept me distracted and soon they were ready for cooking. We heated the pot of water, mashed the warm apples, and drained their tart juice that had taken on the color and texture of pink silk. We added pectin and sugar. “Keep stirring it honey, she coached, “Not too long on the boil,” she warned. We ladled the sweet syrup into the clean, hot jars, pored a thin layer of melted wax on top to seal in the jelly and keep out bacteria. A whole days work, and to my wonder, there stood twelve perfect pints of Home Made Crabapple Jelly. We had made something from what most people would see as nothing. Food fit only for birds or squirrels, yet my Grandma and I had transformed the crabapples into sweet, nourishing jelly. We tasted the leavings from the bottom of the pot, so warm, sticky, and delicious.

The shining red-pink jellies were lined up on the kitchen counter when my Mother returned home that evening. “Look Alma June, said my generous Grandmother, “Susan made jelly all by herself.” Giving me the credit for what she had made happen. Just like my Grandma, to pass on a precious gift, and expect nothing in return.


©Susan Maloney, 2014

Susan Maloney, an English teacher in the Bay Area since 1989, is currently instructing at Mt Eden High School in Hayward. Since 2005 she has worked with the Puente Project, an academic preparation program for first generation college-bound students in conjunction with the University of California. She is thrilled to be a part of the 2014 Bay Area Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute. When not in the classroom, she can be found hiking with her family in one of the many local East Bay Regional Parks.

5 Responses to “Grandma’s Lesson by Susan Maloney”

  1. Tom Says:

    Nicely done, Susan! Though I never met your grandmother, I can hear her voice.

  2. Jon Christopherson Says:

    That is lovely Susan, it brings back memories to me of ask the people in the story. Thank you.

  3. Betsy Weiss Says:

    Lovely! I really enjoyed your writing and the picture it created for me of you and your grandma making jelly.

  4. Kimberley Gilles Says:

    Oh, Susan! You’ve written a worthy memorial to the woman who taught you so much about the true nature of the “fruits” of generosity and patience — two qualities the world needs more of every day. She would be so proud! Not surprised — proud!

  5. Your piece reminds me of my dear grandmother! This is rich writing.

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