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Great Uncle Ed's Pickle

A Short Story by Frank Solomon, Copyright 2016

Great Uncle Ed owed his honorific as much to his perseverance with Aunt Effie as to his position in the family tree. He would have cultivated a taste for Kentucky bourbon, but for the pledge he signed under great duress and lamented as he watched his post-prohibition relatives sip from their julip cups, shot glasses and heavy squat tumblers. Cubed ice, conjured from the gleaming white General Electric refrigerator, tinkled in the golden liquid.

Damn that Edison,” he murmured, his voice hidden from Aunt Effie by the rumbling motor above the newest appliance in her kitchen. Since they bought it, he had not a moment’s peace. “Doesn’t he know there’s a depression? Does he have to put the iceman out of work with that noisy contraption?”

Not so loud,” said Daddy Dem. “She’ll hear you. Just make your move.”

Ed slid his black checker across the crease in the board.

Ed shouted so Effie could hear in the dining room, “when’s dinner going to be ready?”

I’m setting the table now. You boys finish your game so we can get started.”

Demery didn’t say a word, he just advanced his red checker and kept his eyes focused on the board. His arthritic hands retreated to his lap after every move. His lips puckered and relaxed as if enjoying a mint. A quick exchange of double jumps left him with a material advantage.

I didn’t see that coming,” Ed said.

Crown me. You’re distracted. Maybe you’re hungry.”

Or rushed. Let’s call it a draw?”

Demery smiled. “Sure, brother. But, you give up too easy.”

I’m not giving up.”

They played on, and before long a row of red kings began the march back across the board, laying waste to the battlefield.

I feel like Kaiser Wilhelm,” said Uncle Ed. He reached across the board, shook his brother’s hand and began returning the checkers to their box. Together, the two men moved from the kitchen table to the dining room, where Aunt Effie had gathered Granny and the rest of the household.

Pray Ed,” said Aunt Effie.

Great Uncle Ed obediently dropped his eyes and praised the Creator for bestowing his blessings upon the family and providing the food to the nourishment of our bodies. The farmer in him surveyed the table, recognized a good crop in Daddy Dem’s four daughters and me, the only grandchild at the time, then said, “Amen.”

We all echoed, “Amen.”

Lura Gail laughed as she took a roll from the wicker basket circling the table. Always the poet, she said, “Uncle Ed has a head.”

When the basket made it to Great Uncle Ed he quipped, “Lura Gail has a tail.” Everyone laughed.

Why did you leave farming, Uncle Ed?”

Your mother bought this house in the city and said we could either all move or stay behind and starve. Soon after, your Aunt Effie gave me the same choice. Your mother is a wise woman. It was not long after she made us move that the depression hit.”

Do you miss it? Farming, I mean.”

Great Uncle Ed looked across the table at Lura Gail. Things became really quiet.

Whenever I think I might miss it, I look over at the mantle, over there; see it?” He pointed at a clear jar sealed with red wax above the fireplace. “That’s the last cucumber, now a pickle, I ever grew, right there.”

When will you eat it?”

Everyone laughed again, Daddy Dem loudest of all.

Well, Lura Gail, I’ll not eat it. You will. I’m going to leave it to you.”

I don’t like pickles.”

Then, I’ll leave it to your sister, Cordelia.” He looked over at her and smiled.

She shook her head, smiled back and asked, “Who pickled it?”

I did it myself.”

Then, I don’t want it. Men don’t know how to cook.”

If you refuse my gift, then I’ll leave it to Myrtle Louise.”

What makes you think that I’d want it?” Myrtle Louise asked. “If I want a pickle, I buy it from the market. They have whole barrels full of them.”

Uncle Ed looked a bit hurt. He turned to the last of his nieces seated at the table, my mother, Althea.

Well, surely, you Althea would like my pickle? The last of the last crop? Lovingly bottled and sealed with beeswax from the candles made by your own Aunt Effie, before that hooligan Edison invented his electric light? Infused with the brilliant magic of our farm at Pleasant Green, a piece of Ireland fallen far from its mother in the Atlantic, allowed to remain by the angels at the command of the Lord himself? Our home for many a year, until that rascal Hoover took office?”

Althea blushed with a modest smile. Then, she straightened in her chair, and said in a forceful voice, “Since none of my sisters have chosen to avail themselves of this important symbol of our history, I feel it is not only my honor, but my obligation to accept your gift.”

Everyone around the table applauded. Thus did Great Uncle Ed’s pickle come into our family. I inherited it from my mother Althea. It sat on our hearth in every home we lived until I became 93. I tried to give it away to other members of my generation. No one seemed to want it. Finally, I offered it to my daughter, Dixie.

What would I want with a hundred-year-old pickle? Surely one could not eat it. It would be deadly, contaminated with germs,” she said.

Well, if you don’t want it, throw it out.”

I will,” she said. And proceeded to march herself over to the hearth. As she examined the pickle, she noticed the broken red seal on the top of the jar. “My gosh, the jar is open!”

What? I wonder how long it has been that way?”

The liquid in the jar had not completely evaporated, nor had it turned cloudy.

It must be as concentrated as the Dead Sea. Nothing could live in it,” Dixie said.

Now, my daughter, being the cautious person that she was, put on a pair of gardening gloves and carefully lifted the jar from the mantle. The trash would be picked up the next day, so she carried it over the new carpet in the living room, out through the kitchen to the trash bin in the garage. As she let it slide into the bin, a little of the liquid sloshed out.

Yuck!” Her voice shot through the open door of the kitchen to where I sat at the kitchen table.

What’s wrong?”

I spilled it on my gloves.”

Well, bring them in here, we’ll rinse them out in the sink.”

We might contaminate everything in the kitchen, if I do that.”

Nonsense,” I said. “Bring them here.”

Now, just like Daddy Dem, I had a touch of the arthritis. Mainly, this affected my hands, but I managed to do most of the things in the kitchen after my own fashion. I just had trouble writing and playing the piano like I did when I was younger. It fell to me to rinse out the gloves because of my daughter’s squeamishness. I decided to put them on and lather them up with dish soap, then rinse them under running water.

The moment I put on the gloves, and Great Uncle Ed’s pickle juice touched my hand, my arthritis completely disappeared in that hand. Even the excruciating pain I had felt in my little finger just vanished.

These are wonderful gloves,” I said to Dixie. “My hands feel so much better when I’m wearing them. What brand are they?”

They’re no special brand, I bought them at Walmart. You’re welcome to them if they make your hands feel better.”

I pulled the glove, still wet with pickle juice, off my hand and looked at my fingers. They looked straight and the joints were no longer swollen. I flexed my hand.

I can’t believe it. My hand feels so good. I wonder if it’s the pickle juice.”

Maybe I should get the jar back out of the trash.” Dixie disappeared into the garage. She brought the pickle jar back into the kitchen. “Let’s try the other glove,” she said. Then, she poured some of the juice onto the second glove, still on my hand. The juice soaked through the glove’s material almost instantly. Within seconds, the arthritis in my other hand went away.

I pulled the second glove off and flexed my fingers. “I have to know,” I said. I rushed into the living room and sat down at the piano. “Is this for real?” I began to play, “A little bit of heaven, fell out the sky one day. . .” My fingers moved easily over the keys and didn’t hurt at all.

I think this is a miracle,” I said. Dixie began to cry. “Why are you crying?”

I don’t know. It’s just so beautiful.”

We just need to be thankful for the good things. There’s no reason to cry.”

Yes there is.”

What reason could there possibly be?”

Does anybody have the recipe for the pickles?”