verb (used with object), preserved, preserving.
1. To keep alive or in existence; make lasting.

For the first time in my life, I have finally managed to preserve something other than my marriage. Next, I will attempt to preserve my sanity. But for now, it’s tomatoes.

Canning my own tomatoes was a dream I held onto for years. I imagined one day I would don my grandmother’s apron and set about the task, rosy-cheeked and full of zest. But the years ticked by and my excuses piled up. I was busy with work and kids. “When I find the time I’ll do it!” I’d say. “I’m busy!”

The fact that many “busy” men and women found the time to can did not elude me. That knowledge just added to my guilt each time I opened yet another can of BPA-free, top dollar organic tomatoes.

But, as I now know, the art of canning truly is one of time – and of patience. Both of which I feel I have at this point in my life. Well, time for sure; patience is debatable. And so, with much determination, I decided this year it was going to happen. A phone call to a neighbour found me supplied with all the required equipment, and a much needed boost of confidence.

By the end of the first day I was definitely rosy-cheeked, but not full of zest. And for the record, the rosy “cheekedness” wasn’t all that pretty. It was more of an “Oh my fucking god I hate tomatoes” sort of flush. And my grandmother’s apron? Thankfully I couldn’t find it and it remains folded (and clean) in a chest, somewhere.

My canned tomatoes.
My canned tomatoes.

It didn’t take me long to realize this canning business would be a love-hate affair. But like the magic of childbirth, after gazing lovingly at my new “babies” all lined up on the table, I’m already forgetting the pain and imagining what I will can next.

The slow, methodical work also gave me time for reflection. Looking out the window above my kitchen sink, washing and slicing the fruit, it was easy to forget my worries.  Unexpectedly, I found my late grandmother, Earlene, whose apron I had imagined wearing, standing beside me. And her mother, my great-grandmother Lila-Mae, was there as well.

You see, canning – despite it’s gentrification into the modern world – once belonged solely to women. It was their job to preserve the food that would nourish their family through the winter months, food that was planted by hand and harvested from the kitchen gardens of yesteryear. By continuing on with this tradition of “women’s work,” I found myself bound in spirit with the matriarchs of my past. And not just my family.

I had a neighbour whom I adored when I was a young girl. Jean Humphrey was her name. I spent much of my childhood spare time with her. I remember vividly the tiny cuts on her thumbs after a week of canning. She would slice the fruit and vegetables with her paring knife, cutting against her thumb instead of a cutting board. They were tiny, superficial little marks but I was mesmerized. I asked her if they hurt. No, she replied.

And in my reveries, I also thought of Margaret Mulvihill. She was the woman of the 160-year-old house I now call home (Read their story in the “about” section of my blog). An Irish settler, forging a new life in the Canadian wilderness with her young family. How much canning did she do in preparation for the long, cold winter months? Who stood next to her in her thoughts? Her mother? Her grandmother? Did her mind take her back to the home that she would never see again?

It’s a time of “preservation” here at the farm. I have gratitude for the abundance in my life and I’m proud to carry on this tradition. It wasn’t just tomatoes I was preserving after all; it was my womanhood, and the cherished sweet memories of lives now gone.

The country drop-in

Fresh farm eggs, a hand-made wooden stool, an apple pie still hot from the oven, a basket of organic vegetables just pulled from the ground, and a jar of local honey.

These are just a few examples of the welcome gifts presented to my family by neighbours when we moved here. In the early frenzied days of unpacking and settling in, there would be a knock on the door and a neighbour would be standing there, with a beautiful, welcoming gift in hand. So quintessentially country! Again and again, we were struck by their kindness.

Local harvest from a neighbour
Local harvest from a neighbour

There is often little to no warning when suddenly there is someone standing at the door. It’s a bit unnerving, actually; when you think you’re alone and then suddenly, you’re not. But these country drop-ins have become a regular part of my new life in the country.

In the city, visits were always orchestrated and well planned. People don’t drop-in. The closest I ever came to a drop-in there was a last minute phone call to get together. I’m not sure why that is. But in the country, drop-ins are prevalent. My city friends will often ask me things like “what do you do up there?” and “aren’t you bored?” “I’m not sure,” I’ll reply.

The truth is, I’ve never been busier, or more social. In fact, country living is exhausting! A friend of mine on Facebook once joked that he had to return to the city to relax. Now I know what he means. Considering I live in the middle of nowhere it may seem surprising, but I have people around me all of the time!

We learned very quickly (and the hard way) that you must always be prepared for unexpected visitors in the country. I have eluded in previous blog posts of our nudist approach to this place when we first bought the property. We believed that there was safety in our seclusion here and would often shed it all, just because we could. One particularly hot day, Rob was buck naked attending to some repairs outside the barn while I held the ladder (yes, I know…) when Great Grandma decided to “drop-in.”

Fortunately he was able to don his clothing again before Grandma noticed him and had a heart attack! Another time, my sister and I were sunbathing in all our topless beauty when my roofer decided to “drop-in” for some details. We scrambled for our clothes but not before he and his wife got a good look. She refused to get out of the truck. Oh well.

I can only hope that in some way, she will be forever altered by what she witnessed that day.

The early days-Daddy and Cal enjoying a carefree stroll through the orchard
The early days-Daddy and Cal enjoying a carefree stroll through the orchard

Now, though, things are different. Now that we appreciate how suddenly and unexpectedly the drop-in can occur. I am rarely in a state of undress here, just in case. And there is a part of me that is at the ready for the infamous drop-in at all times. And the truth is I love it!

These little impromptu visits are gems in my day. Just yesterday a huge red pickup truck pulled in my lane and an equally huge man and his wife jumped out to introduce themselves. Turns out they had been previous owners of the property and had some gifts for us. They had found hand written and signed tax receipts from the original owners (the Mulvihills-read about their story of survival and loss in the ‘about’ section on my homepage) dating back to 1874 stuffed into the original chinking of our home. They had them framed and wanted to pass them on to us.

I invited them in and, when my neighbours on the twelfth also dropped by, it was a party in the making! Our harvest table is often surrounded by visitors; young and old, family and friends old and new. It has served as a platform for laughter and tears, dreams and the occasional meltdown. And more often than not, it has been brought to life in the spirit of the country drop-in.