Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Taste of the Past

There is a small half geode with a dime in its open mouth that sits on my desk. I am not a betting person, but I won that dime fair and square in a bet over a line of poetry.

A few years ago, my friend Marianne and I were having coffee at our local bookstore. Somewhere in our conversation Marianne referred to "This Is Just To Say" by William Carlos Williams, only she misquoted the fruit as a dish of peaches.

"Plums," I immediately said.

Marianne was insistent. It was peaches, not plums. "I'll bet you a dime it's peaches," she declared.

I walked over to the poetry section, found an anthology, and showed her the poem:

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox 

and which
you were probably
for breakfast 

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold 

Marianne paid up, laughing.

I knew without looking that it was plums for three reasons. First, I have read a lot of William Carlos Williams's work and I know some of the poems well enough to pull out details. Second, I can pull details out because I am a trivia geek, poetry or otherwise.

Finally, even if my first two reasons were invalid, I would remember the plums because chilled canned plums are an indelible part of my childhood food memories.

Grandma Skatzes always (or so it seemed) kept a dish of plums in her refrigerator. These were canned plums, bathed in a heavy purple syrup. As a child, as a youth, I loved to eat them when I was in her kitchen. Sometimes I would walk into the kitchen quietly and hastily drink off some of the syrup.

You grow up, you get older. Tastes change and you forget the special flavors of your childhood.

A few months ago, out of nowhere, canned plums came to mind. I had not eaten them in years, but I suddenly longed for them. But time, as well as taste, moves on. I could not find canned plums in any of the groceries. I finally concluded that they had faded from the American canned fruit scene and gave up on ever eating canned plums again.

Yesterday morning, I ran several errands, one of which was to our local Aldi store. Having found the three items on my list, I turned down the "specials" aisle just in case something caught my eye en route to checkout.

The purple can caught my eye.


Canned plums.

I stopped, I stared, I bought one can. When I got home, I promptly placed the can in the refrigerator for later.

Last night, I opened the can with trembling fingers and tenuous hopes. What if my food memory was flawed? What if canned plums were utterly disgusting? What then of this wisp from my childhood?

The lid came off. The plums were smooth, immersed in the red purple syrup. I tasted the syrup as I dished up a serving. It was cold, it was sweet, it was a draught from the past. I carried the bowl to the sofa, sat, and lifted the first plum to my mouth.

I was 12, I was 10, I was seven years old and sitting at the laminate/chrome kitchen table spooning the plums into my mouth while Grandma Skatzes puttered around.

It was every memory of canned plums I ever had.

I don't know if I will go back and buy more plums. One can alone is a powerful tonic, pulling me swiftly into the past. For now, while they last, I will savor them.

They are delicious, so sweet, and so cold.

1 comment:

see you there! said...

I have no canned plum memories from childhood but the poem alone is enough to make me want to try some. I'll be checking my grocery aisles.