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Great-Grandma’s Strawberry Jam


Leigha Whitridge

Running out and laying on the soft grass around the oak tree in our back yard, my seven older sisters and I hear gravel crunch as Mama’s yellow pickup truck rolls down the driveway. Mama calls with a smile, “Y’all get off your behinds and come help!” We fly by beds of peonies as we take trips unloading gallons of strawberries and pounds of sugar. It’s finally time to make the yearly supply of frozen strawberry jam.

Mama clears mail and dirty dishes off the counter. We gather around. She mashes the berries. She boils the gelatin. Hot sugar clouds float above our heads. She moves instinctually, never needing the recipe handed down from Great-Grandma June, who I almost met but who passed the May I was born. These days were our meeting. We all mix with wooden spoons late into the evening, circling white ceramic bowls bigger than our heads. We plop the thick, pink concoction into glass jars. It sticks to the sides like molasses and drips like honey. The freezer is filled, until morning. The night is long, but we know that with tradition comes certain pain. 

In bed, my dreams float into those sugar clouds. A kitchen I know well, but have never been in, is full of the bobbing blonde and white hair of my sisters and Mama and Great-Grandma June. Our bodies stir within the floral wallpaper, busy with dance. From bowl to bowl, we spin through warm shafts of light pouring in from a cloudy window as a transparent radio plays tunes of a distant piano. 

I wake to toaster ticks and the smell of warm bread. Everyone silently crunches at the kitchen table. I look up and ask, “Mama, how do you always remember all the steps to Great-Grandma June’s recipe?” My sisters swallow their giggles as Mama says, “I guess I was about your age when I found out the recipe’s always been on the back of the Sure-Jell gelatin box.”