Making jam with my Grannies: Learning about collaboration, leading and following

This month, I am reflecting on work as part of the Blogher NaBloPoMo challenge. And I sure have a lot to say on the topic when it comes to my job at the University. But if I really think about it, one way I really learned how to work was by watching my Granny and my Grandmother work hard for the family through providing nourishment and healing.Often, this involved growing things and cooking things, but what comes to mind most is jam. Yes, you read that right, jam as in sour cherry jam, quince jam, gooseberry jam or raspberry jam. No jelly need apply.

As my writing centers around my Turkish-American life - for the Turks out there, Granny was my anane and my Grandma was my babane. And let me tell you, those women knew how to work. They made everything for breakfast, lunch, dinner a cold or a belly ache, by hand, usually from scratch, and often with items from their kitchen gardens. I barely remember them outside of the kitchen, truth be told. In the summer, the kitchen gardens were a major source of important bits and pieces.

My babane, for example regularly harvested of a snitchet of chervil, dill or chives from just outside the kitchen door to add flavor to a dish. My anane, on the other hand was more likely to look for raspberries, gooseberries or rhubarb in the back garden for jam – but also for the occasional berry fool or pie or pastry. But she also had an herbal garden on the south side of the house where she grew medicinal herbs That went into twisty concoctions that made my nose curl. I’ll leave those vile concoctions for another day’s description.

What was most memorable about watching my anane and babane work was the process of home canning in the summertime – and that’s where I learned all about leadership and collaboration. Let me tell you that is hard And dangerous work, canning vegetables and fruit over massive boiling pots in a house with no air conditioning in the height of July afternoon. My babane canned a lot of tomatoes… But I was rarely there to watch it. I learned more about watching her stretch them through the winter season into all sorts of meals, usually a nice spaghetti sauce.

In late June, my mother and my anane would always make raspberry jam, gooseberry jam and a mix of raspberry gooseberry jam. They made so many home canned wax sealed jams that we had them all year long, and you could really taste the sunshine in them. And I saw that all that hard work they did, sweat dripping down their brows furrowed with the bird’s feet of deep concentration about the viscosity of the bubbling sugary mixture, and whether it was “time” – that “time” thing meant that the magic of jam perfection had been achieved.

I still act the same in my own work, although it isn’t jam I produce. In many ways, it is the images of the raspberry and gooseberry jam making that allows me to relate to my kaynana or rather the stories about her, in which she would make great steaming vats of sour cherry jam, M.’s favorite, so that he could enjoy it for as long as it would last. It’s a romantic image for this American lady,the making of some exotic sounding jam that we don’t have here.

Yet, I know full well from watching my anane make gooseberry raspberry jam in the sticky swamp of a hot Cape Cod summer, that this was no feat for the weak hearted. It is all you can do to avoid hot splatters of red green jam that easily make sugar burns like odd egg-shaped freckles on your arm at a rate faster than sunburn In the noon day sun. Work has consequences, despite it’s necessity.

I watched my anane lead at some point when she was the expert, and I watched my Mother lead at other points as she was the heavy lifter. There was leading and following and collaborating in consideration of whether the jam was ready or not. It was a dance of leadership, collaboration and following all at different moments with different pirouettes.

When my babane died, at her memorial, I remember that she was the one who taught me that the work of preparing food is love. But teaching a young woman to cook for her family and modeling that for all to see is also a lesson in the work of childrearing & responsibility, jam or no jam.

So in answer to today’s Blogher NaBloPoMo daily prompt for writing on work, which was: Do you feel most comfortable being a leader, a follower, or a collaborator? I would have to say, it depends on what type of jam I’m making that day. So thank you to my anane and my babane for teaching me about the necessity for all three roles in my work life.

Liz Cameron Www.slowly-by-slowly.com

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