I arrived in time for supper, late that Wisconsin afternoon. Auntie Esther asked me to go get a jar of pickles from the root cellar. Flipping on the light down there, I saw the ribbon of color across the walls formed by gleaming jars of green beans, tomatoes, and corn. At the end of the top row was a small section of pickles. I chose one labeled “watermelon pickles” and brought it upstairs.
My first taste of watermelon pickle was a burst of sunshine and tangy spice tingling on my tongue. “How do you make these?” I asked.
“I’ll give you my recipe if you’d like,” replied Auntie Esther.
After our meal, while I cleared the table and did the dishes, Auntie Esther wrote out the recipe. Then she went downstairs and brought up the last jar of watermelon pickles.
When I left a few days later, I carefully packed the pickles and the recipe in my luggage. As I headed back toward Seattle, little did I realize that was the last time I would see Auntie Esther in her own home.
I saved the pickles to serve with Christmas dinner. As the family gathered around, I told them about Auntie Esther’s pickles and that this was the last jar of pickles she made. Everyone enjoyed a bit of pickle with their meal. After dinner I put the jar of pickles back in the refrigerator.
Somehow, that jar of pickles was forgotten until the following Christmas. When I discovered it in the back of the refrigerator, I brought it out again for our family meal. Everyone remembered the story of Auntie Esther’s pickles and enjoyed another taste.
As we cleared the table, one of the grandchildren asked, “Grandma, will you save the rest of the pickles for next year?”
As another Christmas rolled around, I put the watermelon pickles in a pretty glass dish, and as they were passed around the table, I told some of my memories of Auntie Esther. Her life was a story of courage and faith, of struggle and overcoming.
After dinner, we carefully put the leftover pickles back in their jar in the refrigerator.
Each Christmas for the next 10 years we brought out the jar of pickles, cut them into smaller and smaller pieces, and passed them at the table as we shared memories of Auntie Esther and her inspiring example of a life well lived. It began to feel like a sacrament of remembrance as we tasted the spicy sunshine of her life and shared our memories of her.
This year the last bit of watermelon pickle was finally gone. So I made a batch of watermelon pickles from Auntie Esther’s recipe. And I continue to treasure the memories as her life of faith lives on.