9. Preserve Us a Nation

A lot of apples have passed through my kitchen lately. They come in as freshly-picked, slightly wormy fruit and leave in bottles as applesauce and pie filling. A couple dozen landed in some crisps (a dessert) as well. It started with peaches and pears at the end of August, and then free fruit started coming our way, so as long as I could come up with canning jars, the kids and I (and sometimes even my husband) have begun perfecting the art of home food preservation.

I’ve had the materials now for six years, but it never seemed like the right time to take on this intensive project. Plus, I was terrified that if I did it wrong, I would kill someone with botulism. So the first year we were here, I let the apples go straight to the compost with their little worms. Last year the tree didn’t bother giving us apples. We didn’t deserve them.

It gave us a second chance this year.

It is amazing how many apples it takes to make a few jars of applesauce. A lot of refuse results from the process as well. Just over a gallon of applesauce and about the same amount of compost fodder, as seen in the photo. It took nearly all the apples from my tree–at least what I got to before the rabbits could eat them–to make this applesauce. Little did I know that I would be receiving buckets and buckets from another friend (I gave away three quarters of those) and then I kind of got hooked.img_4590

This morning I started on a bucket of apples my younger two children and I had picked yesterday. Our friend had helped my youngest retrieve good apples from the ground while her husband had used a long apple picker and my son had stood on a step-ladder to gather what each could reach. I had actually climbed the apple tree and gone out on a limb for this fruit, so I wanted to make sure I took care of it before the worms, earwigs, and fruit flies finished their work. I set up a series of large bowls and other implements for washing, cutting, and de-bugging the apples.

I made sure to face the television. No, I hadn’t set up to watch college football like my husband did when I gave him a box of pears to peel one Saturday. I was ready to watch the Saturday morning session of General Conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have always liked to do a “mindless task” during the Saturday morning session so I can work while focusing on instruction and encouragement brought to church members through our leaders. Besides, sitting too long puts me in a lot of pain.

As I quartered apples and found fascinating tunnels and squirming things, I listened to the beautiful music of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir* and remembered another time that I chopped up food and listened to religious proceedings.

The year I turned twenty I was living in Provo, Utah, and I would drive up the hill to Orem, where my mother had grown up, to work at an assisted living center. One autumn afternoon, on a Sunday, I was the only caregiver on duty. I felt so glad that I would be in the kitchen making dinner while the old folks were gathered in the adjoining common room for their church services.

A nearby congregation would bring the symbolic bread and water, the needed people, and the music to create a typical Sunday church meeting for these folks whose bodies and memories were now failing them. I just felt happy for them to have this opportunity since it meant so much to them and they craved anything that resembled their past lives.

Plus, I was making a delicious stew for my old folks. I knew that Melvin was tired of wimpy dinners–he still saw himself as a football star and once tried to pass his walker to me over a sofa. His pass was incomplete. I think he went down too, sacked by an unsteady gait.

Then there was Loretta, who compared me to Hitler when I suggested that she try following my lead during exercise. She had been having mini-strokes and remembered less and less about the recent past. She would enjoy church.

And sweet little Hannah. She barely spoke a word to anyone, but you could always be sure that when asked how she was doing, you would get a “Fine-a-ree-ha!” out of her. She might warm up to someone today and not be so lonely.

And if Lona could keep her clothes on this time, we would probably all feel safer. I could go on and on about that crowd.

So like a mother hen, I saw all my chicks gathered nearby and went bustling about my kitchen. Making stew requires the chopping of vegetables–carrots, potatoes, and celery, at the least. I was feeling extra stressed because the potato peeling process had landed more than one potato into the garbage, and I couldn’t be absolutely sure the health department would let me keep my food handler’s permit if they’d known that I just rinsed it off and kept going.

Old people expect their dinner by 5 pm, so I was working against the clock. I also needed to do a lot of chopping even though I knew the kitchen opened up into the common room and echoed every sound I made.

I surveyed the residents attending the meeting. Yep, every one of them was hard of hearing. But most of them were asleep. I chopped as quietly as I could, knowing that I was possibly bothering people but feeling assured that the people in my charge were getting the best I could offer in this situation. You can’t really chop food quietly with a dull knife, however. When a smartly dressed woman, who was visiting from the neighboring congregation and helping with the proceedings, approached the kitchen counter, I was prepared for some unifying comment about how wonderful it was that we could both serve these precious brothers and sisters.

Instead, her words, though meant well, cut me to the quick: “Would you mind not chopping food right now? We would like to have a reverent atmosphere for our church service.” Ow. I’d have felt better if I’d just sliced my finger into the garbage can. I think I seasoned that stew with more than a few tears as I tried to hide my humiliation. Her assumptions about what I was trying to accomplish and how I ought to show my concern for my old folks made me feel about as big as a potato grub.

I bring this all up because over the past few months, we have had an increasing trend of protests taking place during the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance, especially at sporting events. Because sports are involved, my husband discussed a political issue with me, which occurs less often than you might think because he mostly ignores Facebook, and that is where I am more likely to bring up a political issue.

I have read a few posts by friends and family who assume that those who are protesting during this moment of reverence for our nation’s flag are being disrespectful.  I found it surprising that my husband, a former member of the U.S. armed services and a very patriotic citizen, said it didn’t show disrespect. There is a proscribed way to show respect to the flag, but it is not required–we are free to choose how we spend that moment.

He said disrespecting the flag would look more like that person who is too busy looking at their phone or talking to a neighbor to even notice the flag’s presence. Those who are protesting by taking a knee, linking arms, or showing their fist are using the moment to get their feelings onto the radar of a larger audience.

Rather than making assumptions about what these people are trying to accomplish and how they are showing their concern for the people they care about, just ask them about it without attacking. I learned a lot from my cousin when she patiently explained to me and several other relatives in a Facebook dialogue what these protests stood for.

I can show reverence to the flag of our country without being angry that another is using that moment to bring attention to aspects of our pledge or anthem that do not fit the America they, or those whom they care about, live in. And if I recognize that the protester is trying in his or her own way to bring freedom, liberty, and justice to segments of American society for whom it is lacking, perhaps I can see how beautifully the flag joins contrasting shapes and colors into one unified symbol, just as I would hope that contrasting voices and concerns can be freely expressed within the country it represents. Instead of letting this moment before a game divide us like fans for rival teams, let it unify us in a desire to make America better.

All people attending to the anthem love America. Please don’t give up on her! Even when bothered by feelings of powerlessness in the sight of political and social change, don’t change the channel, if only to ease your discomfort with the scene before you. It is there because we have changed the channel too many times already.  If it took invading the sacred realm of professional sports to get the nation’s attention, then clearly, we have been blind and deaf to the scene that is playing out more and more often and in louder and more destructive appeals for justice. If we who are comfortable enough with the status of racism in this country only seek out new comfort in some sort of “politics-free zone,” then we are prolonging the necessity of these protests.

To illustrate, if you’re watching a movie and it shows sickeningly brutal acts taking place, and you feel uncomfortable and want to change the channel, is it enough if your buddies say “it’s not that much violence;” “the graphic part is almost over;” “no one said the good guys always won;” or “you have the power to change it, but the remote is broken”? Many Americans cannot change the channel so that those waiting for life to magically go back to “normal” can get comfortable again. We need more voices pointing out that racism isn’t taking a snack break to avoid the ugliness, so neither should we.

The flag still waves. It is up to us to take what has been given to us and make it into something better, something all people can enjoy. Like the apple spoiled by a worm or a pleasant afternoon by some sour words, we can and make it into something from which many can benefit. Preserving food takes time, energy, vision, proven principles, and materials prepared to certain specifications. Do it wrong–make it prone to spoilage–and you can poison countless people, very likely those closest to you first.

Preserving a nation, even when it seems to have been ruined by injustice or violence or corruption requires, too, the vision, energy, proven principles and material resources that the growing minds and hearts of this country are pleading for. Many went out on a limb so that we could enjoy the fruit of freedom, and many still go out on limbs. Let us value the various ways that we reach and preserve that fruit so that all may taste of it and know its worth. [Third and fourth to last paragraphs added September 29, 2017]

*Update: Their name is now The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s