So far, so good. The possums and birds have not yet eaten my quinces. Of course there are still a few weeks to go before they ripen into those glorious golden globes that can entice all creatures feathered and furry.
I planted my quince tree in memory of my mother when she died fifteen years ago. She lived interstate and refused to wear one of those beeper things around her neck that would activate help if she was taken ill. Eventually she agreed to phone each morning and leave a message.
Her calls became a daily weather report: It’s going to be a scorcher today so I’d better get the watering done early. Or: Mr Briggs is coming to fix my tap if it stops raining. Or: Lovely here today. I’m having my feet done later so I’d better get on.
One morning the phone didn’t ring. With dread I called her neighbour. He found her in her garden, lying amongst her tomato bushes, giant Grosse Lisse, heavily staked against the back fence where she’d been watering.
I was devastated that she’d died so alone. And so ignobly. It took me some time to accept that it was a perfect way for her to go. (May I be so lucky and quietly slump onto my keyboard!)
Gardening was my mother’s salvation. She spent the best part of each day digging and planting, weeding and watering. (At 80 years of age, she stripped the wallpaper off every wall in her house and—I discovered later—she stood on a chair on top of a table to paint the ceilings!)
In her garden she had flowers, fish and a fernery but her fruit trees and vegetables were her pride and joy.
Plums, peaches and nectarines, she preserved in her Fowlers Vacola Preserving Kit. Her grapefruit marmalade received a mention in my husband’s wedding speech, making her blush with delight. Mandarin peels were dried and dipped in dark chocolate. Despite finding the recipe on a scrap of paper stuffed into her old Green and Gold recipe book, I’ve never been able to equal her tomato sauce.
When she came to visit, she ignored fruit-fly warnings and smuggled peaches, plums and freshly picked silver beet across the border. At airport or railway station, her luggage was always maximum weight, full of well-wrapped bottles of sauce, marmalade, and quinces.
Most of all, I loved her quinces. They were works of art, layered in glass jars and preserved in her Fowlers until their woody flesh turned tender and they became a delicious rosy pink.
For many years I didn’t have an easy relationship with my mother. It took a lot of growing up before I understood what had shaped her life, before I realised she’d never heard the ‘love’ word and simply didn’t know how to use it. In those jars of pink quinces, I eventually saw all the love that couldn’t be expressed except through her gardening and cooking and giving.
When I planted my quince tree, I had no intention of preserving my own fruit, which is probably just as well because when I cleaned out her house, I gave her Fowlers to one of her friends.
Now I wish I’d kept it. Other things too. After the funeral, the priest asked if he could have her bird’s nest ferns. Truly, we’d hardly arrived home from the cemetery and he was in the back yard, digging them up. I wish I’d kept at least one.
I’ve been telling my brother lately not to give his wife’s things away too soon, at least not for twelve months. I can see he doesn’t hear me any more than I heard people’s advice when my mother died.
Shock, isn’t it? And that strange fuzzy feeling of living in a parallel world separated by a gauzy curtain of grief.
Do we ever stop missing our mothers? Sometimes when I’m cooking dinner at night, I almost reach for the phone to share something of my day as I did before she died. Then I remember she’s gone, and yet in the remembering, she’s still just a phone call away.
This morning there was a flush of gold on my quinces. The net is ready for draping at first sign of a peck or nibble. The fake owl (which has never frightened so much as a sparrow) is in position where the possums love to run.
I must admit I’ve been sneaking a look or two on eBay. If my crop ripens and survives, I just might buy myself a Fowlers!