When I first met Karen in 1986, she seemed like a nice lady, very kind and friendly. I liked her right away.
Then I went to her house.
When Karen showed me her pantry, it was like the angels began to sing. “OH, MY GOODNESS!” I thought. “Homemade catsup?? I want to be just like this woman!”
For a suburban girl who, at age 27, had already moved 26 times, I had a pioneer’s heart. I longed to put down deep roots for my son and me and learn to do things the old-fashioned way. (Hey, even though I lived in a downtown area in New Jersey, I had a wringer washer, so what does that tell you?)
Getting to know Karen opened a whole new world for me. She worked very hard but always had a smile and a good attitude. Her home was inviting and she used her creativity to make it a special place.
I already knew how to sew (thanks, Dad) and do lots of other homemakey things, but seeing that glorious, abundant array of home-canned produce in Karen’s pantry stirred something in my heart and inspired me to greater things. I went back to New Jersey, but part of my heart, my dream for my future, I left in that kitchen on that rural road.
Not long after that, I moved to Pennsylvania, not too far from Karen. I met and married my husband, and became pregnant with my second child, not necessarily in that order. Karen hosted a lovely baby shower for me out on the front porch of her home, a big, stone, converted chicken house. I never expected such a kindness and it blessed me greatly.
Over the years, my life has changed, just like everybody’s does. Our three children are grown. We live in the country now, on a few acres with woods and a big pond. We raise chickens. Every summer I can many jars: tomatoes, salsa, hot sauce, relishes, peaches, corn, green beans. In the fall I can applesauce, more tomatoes, and whatever else I can get my hands on. Winter canning means chicken, beef, dried beans.
When they have cooled and all the lids have pinged their glorious ping, I wash the jars and arrange them lovingly, then stand back to admire my handiwork. The gleaming array is indeed a beautiful sight, but my own jars never quite inspire the thrill of that first dazzling, life-changing glimpse into Karen’s pantry in 1986.
My friend Karen didn’t set out to be an example to me, but she became one. You may never realize the impact your life has had on others, just by being you.
PS: To this day I have never canned a single bottle of catsup.
Time for a break.