Dear Aunt Clare;
Please, for the love of all things holy, give me your recipe for Nana Jam. Not that I'll have much luck ever making my own jams, but I still want the recipe. This, above all else must go on after you leave us. This isn't your only endearing legacy and its definitely not your most important, but it is your most tasty, and its one of my most indelible memories of you.
I can remember watching your grandchildren squabble over the remaining bit of Nana Jam in one of those Kerr's jars. I've seen family bonds almost ruined over one jar of gifted Nana Jam. I don't know how serious some of my cousins were when they said it was going to come to blows, but I think they were pretty damned serious. Your Nana Jam is the stuff of legend and as such, it is meant to be preserved and shared through generations.
I can remember tasting it. It was as if sunshine exploded over my taste buds. Am I using a little bit of Hyperbole? Maybe, but I'm not to far off. I could taste the love in each bite. Sun ripened, wild raspberries picked straight from the vine probably by Uncle Merle were painstakingly put into a jam and jarred by you over your basement stove and lined the basement shelves, along with your canned green beans, sweet peas, snap peas, and beats you've grown in your garden and prepared yourself. I've always loved this and admired this about you.
It seems weird that I'd want to talk about this first. There's so much more I could be talking about. Maybe I could talk about your farmhouse and how much it feels like home to me. I feel the love in every single nook and cranny in that house. I walk in your garden, and I feel at peace. I walk in and I feel compelled to walk the floors. I walk down to basement, through your canning room, past the stove and hang out in the romper room. I go back up the stares and hang out in the kitchen before rounding the corner to the door that leads to the stairs and the rest of the house. I walk up the steep stairwell and down the hallway, surveying each of the bedrooms. I have to walk down the side of the hallway because the wood floor is warped in the center and creaks something awful. It's been that way ever since I can remember. I go back up the hallway, careful to stay to side again, and admire the claw foot tub in the bathroom, even if this guest bathroom doesn't have a shower. I go to the small room just off the stairs and find another door leading to another set of stairs that leads to the attic. I walk up them and admire the attic for just a second. I never stay in this room long. It's always too hot in the summer, and way too cold in the winter, but I admire it as well. I walk back down, shut the door and leave the room. I look through the hallway window at the balcony just off the hallway. I have no idea if the door leading to that balcony even works or not, much less the last time anybody has ever been out on it. Then I walk downstairs and hang out with the rest of the family, chatting amiably as we always do. This too seems like a weird thing to talk about in the context of you.
You are so much more than the things you make or the house you live in. But to me, they'll always be linked to you. I could make up some bullshit story about how they are symbols for who I think you are, that the jam was the nourishment you provided your family and that the house somehow symbolized the love you have for your family, because you could fit your whole family in it. No seriously. I believe we once had what 20 or 30 people staying under your roof for one of our gatherings. We were scattered on three different floors, but we were all in there, somehow. But that's just some English 101 symbolism I'd try to make fit to describe you. It's not who you are.
I'm worried that the reason these two things pop into my head most is those are the strongest connections I have to you. Don't get me wrong, there's still so much about you that I remember, but these seem to be the stand outs. I hope that's not the case, that I haven't spent the last 34 years of my life letting you just be some minor player in my life, flitting in when events happened in the family, like your son's death, or my wedding, or my son's death and then flitting back out again. You mean so much to me and the idea of you leaving me breaks my heart like all the other losses have broken it before.
I know I still have some time left, but for the life of me, I can't figure out what to do with it. Do I make the trek to Iowa with my daughter so you can meet your great-niece in person? Do I call you just to talk? Am I allowed to ask questions about your life, your experiences? Would you be willing to share? Can I have something a bit more tangible to give my daughter so that when she asks, 'What were grandma's sisters like' I know what to tell her?
But really I'm sitting here wishing that we weren't just family, that you haven't just been my aunt for all this time, but that we were good friends, that I had these answers to my questions already. But we still have some time left and I'll be damned if I won't make it count.
Your niece Tylia
P.s. I am serious about the Nana Jam recipe though. If you haven't written it down, do so now. Preserve this for the ages. Give it to me. I want to learn.