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Grandpa's Pickles

 Wiping the sweat from my face, I glanced again at the directions on the faded pieces of paper neatly unfolded and  placed on my old, wooden, kitchen table. The smell of sugar, vinegar, and spices simmering away on my stovetop transported me back in time almost 30 years, to my grandma and grandpa’s kitchen. The chrome-banded, yellow formica table and the dated yellow vinyl chairs, all sported shiny, metal legs that tapered to the floor. White rubber caps fixed to the end of each leg kept the chairs from  sliding about and scratching the same linoleum that had been there since the 60’s. The top of the table, while always cluttered with notepads, pens, cigarettes, and  boxes of Bugles, always had enough room for a snack and  a good visit. Without fail, anytime you stopped by, you would find coffee in the coffee pot, soda in the back fridge and cookies in the cookie jar. Now, It seems to me that most people become known for something, and my grandparents were no exception. Grandma was know for knitting  great sweaters and for making cookies, while Grandpa was known for his quirky sense of humor, fried chicken, and making great pickles. My whole life, Grandpa had been making pickles. He would forever be bringing us dill pickles, bread and butter pickles, mustard pickles, relishes, pickled asparagus and dilly- beans. His back porch had smelly crocks of  fermenting sauerkraut that I hadn’t yet learned to appreciate.  Grandpa shared his pickle wealth so abundantly that he became known among friends  as “ The Pickle Guy". From childhood through adulthood, any time, any day, I could have my choice of pickles. ( When I was pregnant with my son I actually craved his sweet, tangy bread and butter pickles with chocolate ice cream, and ate them to my heart’s content.) Little by little, as I showed interest, Grandpa taught me to garden, to make jams and can my peaches.
The same way a kid never forms the idea that a chicken nugget was once a real chicken, or that a McDonald's cheeseburger was once a cow, I never questioned how these delicious, little jars of bliss came to be filled with all sorts of marvelous goodness. The fact that they once were cucumbers didn’t even occur to me until that fateful day, with children of my own, I stopped by Grandma and Grandpa’s house for an unannounced visit and found Grandpa elbow deep in sliced cucumbers. Giant sprigs of dill lay across the yellow table, keeping company with bags of sugar and bottles of vinegar, measuring cups and paper towels.  The counter tops were neatly lined with jars and jars of various cucumber concoctions. As I knocked and peered into the backdoor, Grandpa looked up, wearing Grandma's glasses, (as he often did ) and smiled. His blue, Irish eyes lit up and  his short, bristly moustache turned upward , a mixture of smile and surprise.  For me, it was a bit like peeking inside Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, except where sweets would have been was a whole assembly line displaying all manner of pickles and relishes in their infancy. My heart swelled as I spent this special time with the man I adored. We chatted back and forth as he chopped, measured and stirred to perfection. I learned about brine, mustard seed and dill. I learned that Grandpa wasn’t just someone who loved me, and  gave me penny candies and good birthday gifts growing up, but a man who had a wealth of knowledge, experiences, and wisdom. I had seen my Grandpa through grown up eyes for the very first time.
Before I left, he picked up the notepad from the cluttered yellow table and a pen, and copied his recipes down so I could  try making pickles in my own home. I never imagined then, how much those sheets of paper would become priceless treasures. He’s been gone almost 20 years now, but he is never more than a thought away from my heart. I hope he somehow knows that I am carrying on the pickling tradition and who knows, maybe I will one day be known as “The Pickle Lady.” We each have gifts and talents, knowledge and wisdom  just waiting to become someone else’s priceless treasures. What are you willing to share and teach to 
those in your life?


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