Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Canning Elvis

(Kay says I'm "scatty" and this will help that along. :-)  Poor Elvis.....Kathy, you'll appreciate this. BTW this wasn't in the paper either)

Canning Elvis
by alisa dollar

Wouldn’t you know-the day I decide to learn to can, Elvis fell off the can and dies?
I have never lived outside the city limits and thought Del Monte™ was the national canner of America.  Not naive enough to think milk just happened into plastic or carton containers, I will, however, readily admit I have never known a cow up close and surely not personal enough to invade her privacy. Therefore, when I found myself thrust into a foreign-like country-that being farmers who grew vegetables seemingly enough to feed a third world and had wives who put said veggies in jars and called it canning to feed their family for a year—let’s just say I was totally out of my element.
Now Elvis.   Elvis is another story altogether.  I learned at a very young age to defy the mothers-of-the-50s outcry this man would surely doom morality in America.  Now, excuse me?  Gyrating a pelvis, fully clothed, mind you and in baggy pants to boot, would doom morality?   In America?   Get real.   My mother’s strict instructions at the tender age of nine to never listen to or watch Elvis and his pelvis may have been instrumental in my lifelong love affair with The King.  I took it upon myself to collect every bit of information, recording, button and miscellaneous memorabilia on this newfound destruction of America.  Ebay would love me.
I grew up feasting on Del Monte™ veggies and Elvis’ crooning never once giving a thought my life might alter drastically in both areas when I married and moved to Never Never Land-West Texas.  West Texas is a vast and friendly place.  Although, I will admit for a long time, I thought God had gone to sleep in my beloved Central Texas and woke somewhere in the mountains of New Mexico while he was dishing out trees, water, lawns and such.  I was a displaced homemaker as it were.   Most thought I was some hippie who’d somehow hypnotized my straight-as-an-arrow West Texas cowboy-like husband into ‘marryin’ up’ with him.  And of course in the Bible Belt, they prayed for him daily.  
Along the way we struck a bargain, this West Texas and I.  I learned to love seeing the sky touch the ground rather than a tree.   I loved it so much, I decided I wanted to be a farmette, my loving term for my new found friends-these women who put veggies in a jar and called it canning.
I knew of course that canning preserves and keeps vegetables edible and as fresh as possible through time.  I just didn’t know it was so complicated.   I chose for my first time, pinto beans and new potatoes.    No one told me that not only were pinto beans the hardest to pick out in the blistering sun with nice bits of dusty air blowing for effect, but they were also the hardest to shell.   The potatoes were a piece of cake compared to the beans-and they were so cute and tiny.   
My friend Francene was also a transplant from Central Texas-only she was from canning stock.   I truly believe she would can anything.  She breathed that kind of stuff.   If it grew and it was anywhere near edible-she’d can it.  I finally gave in to her pleas to teach me and allow her be my mentor.  The canning lady and the hippie lady.   What a pair.
We chose my house because I had a gas stove.  Looking back, I suspect it was because she was worried about her ceiling.  She brought over two huge metal bucket looking things with intricate gadgets to lock.  She called them canners.  There were little clock-like timers on top of each and my job was to watch the timers.  I am still not sure what I was watching for but she scared the wrath into me that if I didn’t, those locks would come unhinged and blow up all over the place.  I assured her nothing would happen on that timer that I didn’t know.
I don’t even remember what we had to do to get the jars ready.  Mine were really pretty though.  I had bought some bi-centennial ones the year before because I thought they’d be collector’s items.   I never dreamed a year later I’d have them in lock-down full of pintos and potatoes.
Satisfied all was well, Francene left me.  She left me alone with two steaming canners and two sleeping toddlers to go get our two older children from school.   Francene assured me nothing would happen while she was gone.  She told me-no she threatened me-to leave the settings as they were.   After all-what could happen in twenty minutes?
In twenty minutes, let me tell you, my whole world fell apart!  Francene had been gone approximately three minutes when my phone rang.  It was my neighbor across the street-her voice anxious, “Have you been watching television?” 
 “No, and I can’t talk, I’ve got to watch the thingies on top of the canners, Francene said.”  
“Oh, then you don’t know.”
Curious, though I knew I had to get back in front of my brewing canners, I asked, “Don’t know what?”
“Elvis is dead.”
“WHAT?   This isn’t funny!  I told you I was canning and I don’t know what the devil I’m doing and I have to go know and watch the timers.”
I hung up the phone and sat on the floor in front of my stove angry at my neighbor for playing such a nasty joke.  Everyone and their dog knew I was an Elvis freak.
The phone rang again.   It was HER.
“I’m serious.  They broke in.  Elvis is dead.  He had a heart attack.  In his bathroom.  He’s dead.”
“In his bathroom?”
“Yeah, he was reading on the toilet and he fell off and died.”
“You really are kidding.   Fell off the can?   No way.”
“Yes.  Turn on your television.”
Needless to say, I turned on my set only to realize my neighbor rather than make fun or joke with me had been softening the blow.  I went back to the floor in front of the gas stove topped with two canners steaming heartily-and cried.
That is how Francene and the boys found me.  Francene immediately checked the canners and the timers.  Seeing everything was in order, she got eye level with me and demanded to know what happened.
“Oh Francene,” I sobbed.  “Elvis is dead!”
She was stunned.   “You are sitting here in the middle of your kitchen, on the floor while canning and you are crying your eyes out because Elvis is dead?”
She did the unthinkable.  She laughed.
I sobbed harder.  “You d-d-d-d-on’t und-d-d-d-derstand.”
My son, bless his seven year old heart, did know his mom’s fetish for Elvis and tried to explain.   “Yeah, Francene, mom has Elvis balls on our Christmas tree every year.”
Francene hooted....”Well no wonder he’s.......”
The timer!   The pintos and potatoes were canned!
The next few minutes were filled with unlocking the canners and carefully setting the jars on my cabinet to cool.   In the following flurry of Ms. Canner of America’s orders and feeding all the children snacks, Elvis slipped my mind.
I cried many tears over Elvis-forever thankful I was able to see him twice before he died.  Guess where?  Good ol’ West Texas.  I left my jars on my cabinet and wouldn’t let my family open them.  It was a pride thing.  Plus in those jars of pintos and potatoes I understood what I’d done in preserving life spans for future use.  They also reminded me of Elvis and his untimely death.  I was busily preserving my memories.  Canning.  He was dead, but-alive and preserved within my heart and mind.
My pintos and potatoes didn’t last for long once I let them be opened and eaten.  I have never canned again.   Del Monte™ is my personal canner.  But you know what?  Every time I open a can, I remember the day I did can.  The same day Elvis fell off the can.  I figure Francene did indeed teach me to preserve. 
That 'canning timer' is still working.  I have my memories.  

1 comment:

  1. Elvis balls on your Christmas tree! This is hysterical! I remember where I was when I found out Elvis had died. Sitting in a classroom at Amarillo College. There were a couple of women several years older than the rest of the class in there and they were bawling their eyes out and told me. :-) I think a lot of women cried that day!

    By the way, I have never canned in my life. Kudos to you for trying.