29 Jars of Pickled Peppers
I pulled out a tattered rag from the pocket of my overalls and wiped the beads of sweat collecting on my forehead. I leaned against my RAM 2640 and sipped the last bit of water I had left in my bottle, savouring every last drop. I allowed the sun’s rays to heat my skin, enjoying what little break I had before continuing to load boxes into my truck. The stacks of boxes began to tower over me, mocking me and my numerous trips back and forth from the house to the truck.
Before I disappeared through the front door, I took one last look out into the neighbourhood to enjoy the view; the forecast predicted that today would be ideal to head out to the park for a picnic… too bad I had to clear out my dead mother’s house.
I zigzagged my body around the boxes that congested the hallway. I could still smell the fading scent of potpourri mixed with stale bread as I entered the kitchen. The room was bare, apart from the boxes. From the corner of my eye, I could make out Trixi’s long, fluffy tail nestled in between the spice rack and her water bowl. I poured some water into the bowl, since she had left her food (prepared, might I add) untouched, but she didn’t respond. She just continued to stare out the window above the sink.
“If you’re like this all the time, I guess we won’t have a problem with our new arrangement,” I said, wondering if I had already unpacked her bed back at my house.
My mom was the queen of clutter. She loved it. I think she considered it some sort of hobby. She would find kitschy, original objects dating back to the beginnings of the 20th century (the “Stone Age” really) and took pride in having her ‘artifacts’ on display. In recent years, this ‘hobby’ had grown to the point where she was on a first-name basis with the sellers at our local flea market, which she visited every Saturday. Numerous sets of matryoshka dolls, embroideries with dog jokes (“woof, woof” “bless you”), banana shaped salt and pepper shakers (I got a set of my own from her last year for Christmas), and various grizzly bear figurines doing mundane chores had adorned her tables, countertops, shelves and practically anything that had a flat surface.
I continued bubble wrapping her ‘special occasion’ plates and silverware (decorated with siamese cats) when I heard someone shuffling through the front door.
“In the kitchen, Rob,” I said. I heard Rob struggling to walk through the path of boxes in the hallway, panting. He had his arms lifted above his head and walked sideways so as to avoid crashing into anything.
“You’ve done quite a bit in such a short time!” he exclaimed.
I chuckled, “I had Trixi to keep me company.”
Rob sat at one of the few chairs not piled with boxes and began to wipe down the cups I had stacked to the side, humming quietly to himself as he did. Rob was mom’s boyfriend of 10 years. They rarely spent their days apart as he would accompany her on her excessive thrift shopping adventures. I remembered how his pale blue eyes were rimmed in red at the funeral. “I am bereft without her,” he had said.
After (finally) packing up her plates, it was time to move on to the most daunting task of all: the pantry. And, frankly, I shouldn’t have been surprised when I saw 29 jars of pickled peppers on the shelves. There were banana peppers, Cubanelle, Pimiento, Hungarian wax pepper, Friggitello... all were infused with a different brine of vodka, sesame, beer or curry.
“What the…” I trailed off as Rob appeared at my side.
I looked at him incredulously, “Do you not see these 40 jars of peppers?”
Confused, he examined the shelf until chuckling to himself he corrected me, “29.”
“There are 29 jars of peppers. Pickled, actually.”
“What could the woman have possibly needed this many jars of peppers for?” I asked, incredulous.
Rob was quiet for a moment, then he responded, “I knew that Carla bought a lot of peppers, but I always thought she gave it to you kids or something. In fact, the last time we went to the National Pepper Museum in Bergen, she had a couple of heavy shopping bags full of the stuff.”
“The what? There’s a whole museum devoted to peppers? You and mom went there?”
“Sure. We went several times on the bus, since there aren’t a lot of tourist attractions around here and we old folks don’t want the hassle of travelling farther than we need to. She always liked their tuna sandwiches with a bit jalapeño jam on the side.”
“I’m surprised she didn’t buy that jam.”
He rummaged through a few jars before presenting me with one that had a handwritten label, “Joe’s Jalapeño Jam.”
I laughed, “I stand corrected, of course she bought it.”
I stood in front of the pantry, motionless. Mom is gone… It was sudden and didn’t feel real, although we had the funeral a week ago. She had had a heart attack. A faulty valve she had known about but hadn’t revealed to us. Typical of her to worry about us before her pending death.
“Would you like to take some of her stuff with you?”
He didn’t need to respond for me to know the answer.
Rob and I packed the rest of mom’s stuff, attaching memories of her to each object as we prepared it for its journey to a new home.
That night, after feeding Trixi (successfully, thank God), I decided to unpack the last box I had taken from mom’s house. By the time I had finished, 29 jars of pickled peppers neatly lined my pantry shelf.