Plum Jam

They came to the door and said
that we could help ourselves
to whatever we could find
Their mother was now dead,
they’d cleared the house
of all that they desired.

We went to look, there wasn’t much
but I espied the Kilner jars –
big two-pound ones with rusted lids,
labelled plum jam – grabbed them all.
I also found three small picture frames
and added them too to my haul.

The jars were all unopened
and no date there could I see,
but it was clear that years had passed
since someone came to tea.
That lady had been lonely
in her spare gentility.

When I got to break the seal
corrosion reinforced,
I found the contents alcoholic,
if only slightly so of course.
That just added to the delight
of this sweet resource.

I don’t know now how long
I enjoyed this unsought feast,
provided by the usual mix
of sugar, fruit and yeast.
I blessed that unknown, next-door dame
whom death had now released.

The picture frames told other tales –
one was bound in leather*
with a soldier-boy inside –
the photo of a brother
or a lover who in the First World War
possibly had died?

This guess was then supported by the contents
of another of those frames –
a prayer card from a spiritualist church
this lady had attended,
hinting that her search
for that young man never ended.

Of such small bits and pieces
biographies are made
to fill in all the gaps
left when mortality has laid
its erasing brush across a life
and all the rôles it played.

It’s funny how the memory
of that plum jam can fit
with my history of family food,
as here at night I sit,
listening to cooks’ stories
and weep a little bit.

rs 17.6.18

[* Also described in Eric Bogle’s song ‘The Green Fields of France’. This piece was inspired by hearing on Radio 4 Alison Brackenbury talking about the contents of her grandmother’s recipe book.]