Grandpa Tom’s Jam

jam on counter of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley

“I’m worried about the sugar,” my dad said. He was frowning. “I need 200 pounds.”

I didn’t laugh, though it seems like I should have. I knew this was a big deal. My dad has just a few things he loves – my sister and me, the Clark family, golf, Texas football….and making strawberry jam.

And when I say making jam, I’m not just talking about a batch or two. I’m talking about almost 200 quarts of jam. Every year. In one sitting.

He’s done it since I was a child. My hometown is known for great strawberries and my dad knows all the farmers in town. Many of them were even his patients when he was practicing medicine. “Doctor Clark!” they all say when they see him at the farmer’s market or the roadside stand. They love my dad. And not just because every year he buys at least 20 flats of strawberries.

That’s right, 20 flats. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a flat of strawberries, but it’s a LOT of strawberries. And he buys 20 flats of them.

That’s just part of it. In fact, the preparation takes weeks. My dad has to get new jam jars and Sure-Jell and 200 pounds of sugar. And right now is not an easy time to walk into a supermarket and ask for 200 pounds of sugar.

“What’s your plan?” I asked my dad.

“Well, I figure that I’ll just buy a few bags every time I go to the store. I think I can get about 120 pounds by the end of May that way. It won’t be enough, but I’ll see what I can do about getting the rest. No matter what, I’m making the jam!”

I smiled, thinking of what it is like when my dad makes his jam every year. After stockpiling all of the ingredients, he wakes up really early, turns up the music and begins cleaning and cutting up the strawberries and simmering them with sugar. I have not watched my dad make jam since I was a teenager, but I still remember the smell – it’s like a bit of heaven. And it lasts for days. He always does it in one weekend, usually finishing in the wee hours of the morning before falling asleep each night. 200 jars of jam is a lot.

And then he gives it all away. Of course, he keeps a little for himself. But most of it goes to friends and family. He ships it to me every year, and my kids shriek with delight when the jam shows up. I stockpile it in the basement, and if someone has a baby or if another big event happens, I bring a jar of jam. It’s much better – and honestly more valuable – than a bottle of wine.

My sister and I have always joked that my dad should sell the jam. “You could go into business!” we say. He always laughs, reminding us that he doesn’t make the jam for any reason other than to make other people happy.

Because that’s my dad. He’s not an overly sentimental guy. In fact, when Shawn called to ask my dad if he could marry me, my dad took a bite of an apple, paused to chew it and then said, “well, if she says yes, it’s okay with me!” before moving the conversation to Texas football.

Shawn didn’t know quite what to do with that. Was that the end of the conversation? Didn’t my dad want to grill him about his plans for his daughter?

But my dad is not like that. He doesn’t dwell on moments that others might. He’s not big on long cards or monologues where he lays out his love for others. He says, “I love you,” but even in a birthday card he won’t spend much time recounting the many ways that I’ve impacted his life.

But we know, of course. We know that he loves us, and I know that he loves my kids mostly because he shows us every day. “If you need me, I’ll be there,” is his favorite line.

And has there ever been a line that says “love” more than that one?

My dad shows his love through actions. He shows up when things are hard, even though he may not get a word of thanks. He washes dishes after a long dinner party, even though it means he sometimes misses dessert. He picks up my kids and a million other little kids every day after school, even though he should be playing golf.

And he makes jam.

This year, he may not be able to make as much jam. Resources are short, and he may have to cut production. But the love will still be there, even if my jam supply isn’t what it once was. If I close my eyes, I can smell the simmering strawberries and hear the blasting music. I can remember what it felt like to watch my dad devote a weekend to jam-making.

So this year, I hope he gets all the sugar he needs. Hey, maybe if you’re in my hometown, you can drop off an extra bag you get at the store. And maybe he’ll bring you a jar of jam. Not because he owes you.

But because he loves you.

Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.

8 Replies to “Grandpa Tom’s Jam”

  1. Loved this piece, Marjorie. Please let your Dad know that if he’s not able to find the sugar in stores, he can order through Van Vleet.. they’re in Albany, and don’t usually sell to the public, but during these times, they’ve opened it up to the public. He can just go to their website and follow the directions… they sell 25 pound bags. 20 flats of strawberries, that’s impressive!!

    1. That’s awesome – I’ll tell him!

  2. Your writing is beautiful. For some reason, just now I thought about this woman and wanted to share with you; she’s written a few books you might be interested in and has a podcast

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nora_McInerny

    1. Oh, I know her! I interviewed her for the Post about a year ago. She’s really great!!

  3. A perfect story for Mother’s Day, and such a loving tribute from a daughter. I have tears, really, and feel like I can smell the jam here in Sacramento.

    1. Oh, I love that you love it. Yes, my dad has been my rock through it all.

  4. Joni Utley says: Reply

    This is BEAUTIFUL. I’m crying too.

    Love to you & your family,
    Joni (MS Gulf Coast)

    1. Thank you! And thanks for reading!

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