GUESTWORDS: Jam Man

By Joanne Pateman

    My husband, Mick, is a jam-making machine. It’s as if he stepped into a telephone booth wearing his summer uniform of khaki shorts and a beaten-up polo shirt and changed into a superman of jam.
    Since last summer, he has made cherry, apricot, mango, strawberry, raspberry, gooseberry, peach, plum, blackberry, and beach plum.
    He boils the jars bought from the hardware store and leftover Bonne Maman jam jars with the red-and-white-checkered lids. He calls his new enterprise Bon Papa. He works with factory-like precision. He chops and dices and strains fruit and measures sugar and boils it up according to the recipes on the Certo package. Then he melts wax to seal each filled jar. He carefully wipes off any excess jam and admires his results.
    I leave him alone and return to find beautiful pots of fruit nectar with light coming through the transparent color. His nine jars in three rows are lined up on the kitchen counter like British redcoats off to war. He cleans up after himself and leaves the stove spotless with only a few jam drips here and there.
    The sensuous pleasure I used to experience making jam has now been passed on to my jam king of a husband. One day as I was making raspberry jam he said, “Why don’t you make plum?”
    I answered, “Why don’t you make plum?” And he did.
    I never bought any fruit and used only berries we grew ourselves. I would never have attempted cherry jam; I couldn’t be bothered to take out the pits.
    Mick writes on oval labels with a red Sharpie pen. This gives each jar a professional appearance. He has had offers from a local farm stand to sell his jam but he prefers to keep it for friends and family. When our kids and grandchildren visit they get to pick their favorite to take home.
    We sample a different jam every morning. We spoon jam over plain yogurt for lunch and over vanilla ice cream for dessert. Mick’s favorite is gooseberry and mine is apricot. The blackberry jam that he strained all the pips from reminds me of my Aunt Helen, who removed the seeds from the watermelon that she cut up for my cousin and me when we were children.
    We give a jar wrapped in a colorful new dish towel as a hostess present when invited to dinner. Friends give us the empty jars back, hoping they will get a refill the next year. The dish towels hanging in their kitchens are a reminder of the delicious jam gift.
    I wasn’t surprised by his jam making since Mick was a natural nurturer as we raised our children. He would take the kids to the pediatrician if I had to work. He thought his purpose in life was to smooth out the bumps in my life as well as our children’s. Nothing was too much trouble or too difficult. There was a solution to every problem. “Ask Dad,” was a frequent refrain.
    Mick drove the kids to school for 19 years, sharing the driving with a Japanese family. He loved to drive them because the kids would talk to each other as if he were invisible and he got to hear what was really going on.
    Our two children were born on the same day, six years apart. One birthday morning, Mark and Sophie thought he was driving them to school as usual, but after they passed their turnoff, they said, “Where are we going?”
    He told them he was taking them to an amusement park for the day. “Are we playing hooky?” they asked. “Yup,” he said. “Yeah!” they shouted, loving the idea of parent-sanctioned rule breaking.
    While coaching our daughter’s varsity softball team he rewarded the players with stuffed animals when they made a good play, admonishing them “Softball players don’t cry!” when they missed an outfield catch.
    As Sophie was writing her essay for early admission to Princeton, the glowing green numbers on the digital clock clicked past the midnight postmark deadline for the application. The next morning my husband drove the application to Princeton from New York City. He told Sophie she’d better be accepted because he wasn’t going to drive her college applications all over the Northeast.
    He took our son with him on location for photo shoots for the Army, Tropicana Orange Juice, and other commercial accounts. They went to Zion National Park in Utah and Homer, Alaska, and Aspen, Colo. Mick wanted our son to experience the real world of advertising, to see the process behind the perfection.
    He taught Sophie how to develop film in the darkroom and how to do museum-quality prints. He drove his ’69 Mustang to Florida so our son could use it for his wedding. Mick had kilts in his family’s tartan made in Scotland for the male family members of the wedding party. Mick is a Sean Connery look-alike.
    When I see him with our grandchildren, hugging and kissing them and making up games and drawing roads in the sand to follow, I fall in love with him all over again. Nurturing is sexy. He laughs and giggles like a little boy himself as he plays with blocks, organizes toy car rallies, and reads kids’ books. At the beach my husband builds forts, collects shells, and runs like a sandpiper in and out of the waves.
    Don’t get the idea that my husband is perfect. We have our differences and usual disagreements, over the kids and money. But we try not to go to bed angry. He does have one annoying habit: He never closes jars — mustard, mayonnaise, or relish tops — so when I pick them up, they slip through my fingers, breaking and making a mess. However, he always manages to securely fasten and tighten the lids of his homemade jam.
    But it’s a small price to pay for my Jam Man. As long as he produces jam and smoothes out life’s bumps, I can’t imagine my life without him.
 


Joanne Pateman is a former advertising art director who lives in Southampton. She has an M.F.A. from Southampton College, and her writing has appeared in The Star and The Southampton Review.