When I woke up this morning I had to realize all over again that this weird situation we are all living in is actually real. I laid there and thought about all the stuff we are going to have to do again today to make the world keep turning while the “new normal” just makes it harder and stranger.
As I rolled over in bed, dreading what craziness today is going to bring, I thought about my mother. Isn’t that weird how we do that sometimes, even as adults?
Anyway, I thought about how the grocery store shelves are emptying and how people are trying to isolate themselves . . . and with a smile, I realized the fact that I pretty much grew up in a quarantined state. We were pretty much isolated with the exception of our spread-out neighbors and extended family. We were pretty much self-reliant and my mother knew how to make something out of nothing.
And I remembered a piece I wrote about her mantra of “Waste not, want not” that I’m going to share today. It’s not profound, it’s not a piece that’s going to change the world or ignite a debate about global health or politics -- it’s just a little snippet about simple life that held joy even though I didn’t realize it at the time.
With sweat running down my back and bug bites itching, I kept going, I kept reaching.
The dang tree wouldn’t become any barer by me standing around.
We scratched our bug bites and the purplish red juice from our hands spread all over our dirty little bodies.
“Are we almost done?” I heard a sibling whine from another step stool.
“No, keep going,” our mother commanded. “There are so many cherries left on this tree and we can’t let them go to waste. Remember, waste not, want not.”
All I wanted was to quit picking the dang cherries from that massive tree on the Twiss Place.
The Twiss Place was a magical property where the family had permission to pick whatever we wanted from the cherry, apple, peach and mulberry trees, as well as the chokecherry and plum bushes. I’m not sure what supernatural elements existed on that little plot of land a few miles from our house, but whatever it was it certainly made fruit trees thrive.
Maybe it was that no one lived on the property any longer. The old house sat vacant and our cattle roamed freely on the fenced-in acres. My dad rented it from our neighbor Mr. Twiss, just for the grazing space.
And my mother saw the other benefit – which was fruit in mass quantities just waiting to be picked, processed and stuck away for the winter.
“We can’t let all this go to waste,” she said, tending to the baby in the “carry chair” as she called it. “Just keep picking. This winter, when you are eating all the jelly and pie, you will be happy we did this.”
There was nothing to be happy about. It was a dirty, hot, never-ending job. Just when you thought you stripped an entire limb of fruit, it was like they just popped out from nowhere all over again.
She tried to bribe us with the reminder that we could eat as much as we wanted while we were picking . . . but eating massive amounts of fresh fruit while in the heat resulted in a stomach ache and a couple bad hours in the bathroom.
We would fill bucket after bucket, the mosquitos would bite kid after kid, the bull would venture close enough to prompt us to climb onto limb after limb, and I swore I felt myself lose those moments of childhood slip away hour by hour.
We were champion complainers . . . yet, Mom kept after us, telling us to keep the eye on the prize.
“God wants somebody besides the bugs and the birds to eat all this fruit,” she explained to minds that just didn’t buy in to the rhetoric. “If we let it go to waste, God will be mad at us. We don’t want God to be mad at us. And we’ll be glad we did all this picking, just wait and see. Waste not, want not.”
All I wanted was to put my swimming suit on, lay in the muddy water at Dorothy’s Creek and forget about all the stuff hanging from those branches.
When we got home with the bushels of produce, of course, the work was far from over. Then we had to deal with it all.
Mom would create an assembly line that in today’s standards would violate every child labor law that exists. One would wash, one would rinse, two would pit or peel or slice.
It seemed like the process was never ending.
Mom handled the rest. She’d take the child-handled fruit and freeze, can, turn it into jelly, turn it into jam.
We’d bring up more empty jars from the cave; she’d fill them full of sweet stuff she swore would keep us alive and happy for months.
“Waste not, want not” became the mantra of the summer and fall months.
All I wanted was to never see another apple or cherry or mulberry or chokecherry or plum or peach or anything else that was edible growing on a dang tree at the Twiss Place.
Eventually, the bugs and birds ruined the fruit we didn’t get to and the trees/bushes stopped producing for the season. I remember my mother’s concession speech each year, in which she announced her regret that the campaign had ended but we had made a good effort to not waste what God had provided.
We pulled peanut butter sandwiches from our school lunch boxes most days during the winter – which were also adorned with all types of jelly.
About two times a week, Mom would bake the most amazing bars she just called “apple delights,” which were served in the late afternoon as part of the harvest “lunch.”
There was never a shortage of pie and ice cream usually had a sweet concoction of something fruity running over the top.
I remember a Christmas when my grandmothers were raving about the incredible desserts Mom made from all that Twiss Place fruit.
“It was worth all the bother, wasn’t it?” one grandma asked me.
I think that was the first time I realized the value of hard work and the rewards that could follow. The pain in the hot months was forgotten in the dining bliss of the winter.
“Waste not, want not,” my mother said, laughing in my direction because she knew how much I hated that saying.
I may have hated hearing it, but it was true.
It was a good lesson to learn.
And it was also dang good pie.