Each year, I change my mind on which season I like best. In the spring, I delight in warm breezes and pastel colors after a winter of ice and sleet and cold.
But then, after the lazy, humid, and often dry days of summer, I am ready for this new season: Fall. In the autumn, I dance with the leaves as they twirl their way down from the trees.
I love fall. Crisp, cool air, invigorating breezes, and clear skies remind me it’s that time again. Time for tasting apple cider and cinnamon-spiced apple goodie. Time to revel in brilliant shades of mums and pumpkins dotting our Southside. Time to hear the plunk of acorns and nuts falling in the backyard. Time to watch the scurry of squirrels from tree trunks to branches in our back yard. Time to wonder at the striking orange of maples, brilliant scarlet of oak trees, and vibrant amber of towering walnuts.
Ladybugs and spiders are disappearing, and I am reminded – again – that the fruits of our labors will be enjoyed for another winter. Canning jars in the cellar are much more full than empty. Apple pie filling waits to be spooned into a homemade crust and baked at the request of my pre-teen. I have been informed there will be many requests coming from him because he helped can the pie filling.
One day I sent Aaron to the cellar to get tomato juice. It took him longer than it should have because he stopped to count the jars of apple pie filling.
He decided that having to spend his first evening on his first day of school working was worth the effort. That evening in August, he helped his siblings, parents, uncle, aunt and cousins fill jar after jar of sliced apples. At the time, he thought being forced to work until dark when he’d spent that first day inside the classroom was cruel and unfair. But after that first bite of fresh apple pie, I haven’t heard a word of complaint about child labor, especially when he realized we’d filled enough jars to guarantee at least one apple pie a week until next year!
My sister-in-law and I worked hard that entire day canning over ninety quarts of applesauce and making pie filling sauce for seventy-five jars of apple pie filling. We were grateful for the help of our husbands and kids in the evening when it was time to turn the apple-peeler-corer-slicer and fill the jars with apples. So while our offspring griped and complained (some more than others), we reminded them that they’d be enjoying the harvest of this endeavor for an entire year. Yes, well, at the time all they could think about was homework and this was their first day of school and how could we do this to them?!
We considered that fact when we chose the first day of school to do our canning. But the apples were ripe, free, and ready to be picked. We had a free day, so we took what was given and made a day of canning.
My kids think it’s hysterical when their mother goes to the cellar and stops just to look at the jars on the shelves. They don’t understand the sense of satisfaction I get in looking at the results of our hard work.
I’m not considered a connoisseur of canning. I don’t enjoy canning for the sake of canning. I just like the end results. I’ve done a few pickles in my time, some beets and tomatoes. We’ve got plenty of blackberry jam as well as peach preserves. And, by the looks of things on the shelves, we’ll be well supplied this winter. Rows of newly canned produce decorate the damp cellar: crimson tomato juice, golden orange peaches, tender green beans, and yellow applesauce. We’ve canned some chicken and beef. Homemade chicken noodle soup or beef stew will warm our stomachs as well as our spirits come winter
Harvest time is a special time—when we gather in our blessings and store them up for future days. So while I look over my shelves, I recognize other intangible blessings that are stored in my heart.
The joy of family and friends, the warmth of sharing with others, the friendships that last through tensions. Memories of times past, and anticipation for the future.
Life isn’t perfect. Yet, rather than noticing the rows of empty canning jars, I prefer to focus on the ones that are filled. Instead of comparing myself with a cousin who fills hundreds of jars each year, I choose to recognize that we have more than enough for next year.
No, life isn’t perfect and will never be complete this side of Heaven. But while I’m here on earth, I choose to enjoy the varied hues of autumn. I find fulfillment in counting my blessings, as plentiful as leaves fluttering down from the trees.
In experiencing the mundane events of life or standing in a cellar that dampens with outside rains, I count my blessings along with filled jars of fruit, vegetables, and meat. I’m grateful for a not-so-little-anymore-guy who stopped one day to count the apple pie filling in the cellar and asked if we always had to have a special reason to make a pie. There could not be any better reason than those dear to me. I took the time that day to stop and roll out a pie crust because he was more than special enough.
Yes, my shelves are full. So is my heart. For this reason, and for this moment, I like this season the best.
This article was first published in Discover Southside in November 2008. The little guy is a senior at Virginia Tech, and he still likes apple pie.