Once in a while one of the writers I work with gives us a prompt that simply demands a stretch of the imagination. When I was given this prompt and only fifteen minutes, I found myself in a sticky situation.
CLEARING THE JELLIES
My aunt Sarah is the best cook in the world. I know this because she tells me every time I’m with her, but I agree with her assessment. Everything I’ve ever eaten by her was beyond delicious, almost to the point of the sublime. So that’s why I entered her in the State Fair jelly making competition.
In retrospect, I believe my decision not to mention it until three days before the entries deadline for the Fair was an error in judgment. It seemed to definitely hit all of her anger buttons, and I ended up high tailing it down the street back to my mother’s house.
“Why are you home so early?” asked Mom, looking up from her crocheting.
“Um, Aunt Sarah seems a little upset I’ve entered her red current jelly in the State Fair, so I think I’ll give her a little time to get used to the idea.”
“Martha Jane Johnson, did I just hear you right? You entered my sister in a jelly making contest and didn’t tell her about it until a few days beforehand?” My mom shook with silent laughter. “Oh, you better watch out,” she advised me. “Sarah has always figured out fiendish ways to get back at people who cross her.”
“But, but, but…” I remember spluttering. “I thought she’d take it as a compliment. I mean, I think she’s the best cook in the world,” I suddenly clapped a hand over my mouth, staring at the woman who’s food I’d eaten day in and day out since I was born.
“Don’t worry, I know she’s a better cook than I am,” answered Mom smoothly. “But I crochet better, so we’re even. Why didn’t you enter me in the crocheting competition, huh Martha?”
“Um, I did, Mom.” I ducked as her current project flew toward my head. “Maybe I’ll go visit with Dad for a while,” I said, sidling out of the house and heading for the garage. Over the banging of the screen door I heard my Mom on the phone, saying, “I know! I know! She did it to me too. Now I have to go through all my old projects to decide which one is best to enter. If she’d only told me a few weeks ago I could have planned something truly amazing…”
My dad has years of dealing with my temperamental mother, but even he looked askance. “Didn’t you think they might appreciate enough notice to plan a superior project to enter?” he asked.
Well, the obvious answer to that was, um no, I hadn’t thought about that.
So now I find myself drafted by both women into helping get their projects ready before the entry deadline on Saturday. Mom has me digging through all the old totes in which we’ve stored her blankets, sweaters, scarves, and other decorative crocheting. I dutifully lay them along the back and cushions of the couch for her to examine. After much moaning and groaning she finally decides on a truly amazing baby jacket and matching cap. I suggest she enter the cute bikini she made for my older sister Janet, but it’s been worn in the water and is stretched all out of proportion. My mom has me box up the baby stuff to take down to the Home Craft building. On my way I stop at Aunt Sarah’s to pick up her jelly entry.
My aunt is grinning as she hands me two boxes, one light, the other heavy. The small one holds two jars of the very best red current jelly ever made. The large box is taped shut, with a sealed envelope on it for the fair people. I deliver both women’s entries and figure I’ve gotten off easy.
But on judging day, I learn differently. My aunt takes First Place, as I had no doubt she would, and Mom gets an embarrassing Honorable Mention for her baby togs. So I’m happy, thinking the worst has blown over when I’m motioned over by one of the judges.
“And in a special surprise entry,” he intones while looking at me, “our own Martha Jane Johnson has volunteered to display her well known talents in the broad jump by hurtling over a six foot row of jams and jellies, donated for the occasion by her aunt Sarah.” He gestures and a curtain opens showing at least six feet of jars filled with a rainbow assortment of flavors and colors, lying side by side.
I look at my aunt, who points to the starting line. I glance at my mother for help. She only holds up her Honorable Mention and shakes her head. I’m stuck and I know it, taking my place and considering the obstacles in my way.
Now I’ve taken the state championship for the broad jump two years in a row, so I have at least an even chance. I cleared 7 feet then, but that was after weeks of practice and training. Taking a deep breath, I run ten feet to the masking tape line on the linoleum floor, and jump.
I don’t clear all the jellies and land smack in the middle of the grouping, smashing the jars under me to smithereens and showering myself and the first row of watchers with a variety of sweet sticky treats. Unbroken jars skitter along the floor, under chairs, and eventually into the hands of greedy children, some of whom are well over forty. Gales of laughter and shouts of surprise fill my ears. Luckily, I’m the only one who feels the glass.
Lying on my stomach in the ER, under the influence of local anesthetic, I explain to the doctor stitching up my backside, “I could have done it if I’d had a week or two to practice.” Looking over at my mother and aunt, both of whom are grinning unrepentantly, I admit, “Okay, okay. I’ve learned my lesson. You won’t catch me jumping the jelly ever again.”