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I Don't Know Anything About Grinding Wheat photo

I’m in charge of the dill this year. It’s meant to be an honor, something important for me to do on this day of canning pickles for the winter. I watch my grandmother as she explains how I should fold the long dill stems, how to force them between the tightly packed cucumbers. It’s okay to really push them, she tells me. I glance at my sister and she looks away with a smile. We’ll have trouble pulling those stems out in a few days, long before we’re supposed to touch these jars. We’ll tug and spill and play-fight our fingers as we vie for a bite of the new batch. 

Grandpa buys wheat in huge barrels and has a flour-dusted grinder at the ready. He makes dense loaves of bread that I wish he’d cut thinner. He visits the church often, with Grandma, and other times when only the men are allowed. When construction is finished on the new temple in Seattle, he takes me to see it. I can go on the short tour—for people who aren’t part of the congregation yet. He slips silky covers over my shoes at the door and walks me into a room with an enormous carved bathtub, gleaming, gold. For baptism, he tells me. For when you’re ready. The tub looks deep enough to drown me. There are chairs in rows and tiers, like a stadium around the room.

My sister and I will get in trouble for eating the not-yet-pickles and as punishment we’ll have to wipe all of the jars in Grandma’s huge cellar. It’s her job in the family to store a year’s worth of food and she’s never run short, no matter how many times my sister and I are left in her care or for how long. The church, she says with a small shrug, inspecting our work, they insist. Perhaps she doesn't shrug this year, because she wasn’t that bold when Grandpa was alive. It’s later, when she’s returned to her Baptist self, a week after Grandpa’s funeral, that the veil would have dropped.

There are home canned peaches on the shelves too, beets and potatoes. Green beans and carrots—all floating in glass. There are stacks of toilet paper, rolls of aluminum foil. She packs the freezer, too. Bags of summer berries and every cut of meat I can name. Grandma is diligent, committed, but not once does she share any church secrets with me. There are no hints that I’ll have a cellar of my own one day. That I need to know anything about grinding wheat.

I ask my grandmother about the long white undergarments she hangs on the laundry room wire. She doesn’t grimace when she answers or maybe she does but anyway, she tells me they’re very comfortable, and that rules are rules. Their church has a mandate about drinking caffeine too, and which level of heaven is off limits to women. Also, what kind of man I will marry if I let someone hold me under the water in that giant gold tub.

My grandmother keeps Coke in the fridge for me, because it isn’t bad for me to have it right now. It’s only if I join my grandfather’s church that I’ll have to give it up. The older I get, the more often I am with her during the school year. She greets me at the door after my walk from the bus stop and makes my favorite snack: sliced cheese and round butter crackers. Sometimes she has salami, too. She pours me a Coke, all the way to the rim of her tallest glass. Grandpa waves to me from his recliner and I blow him a kiss.

Drink it up, Grandma says, pointing to my glass. Gather your energy, girl. You’ll need to run one of these days or you’ll be here for life

Maybe that isn’t what she said at all. Not that year, or any year. Maybe she only patted my hand and redirected my attention to the window, to the birds flying by, to a world where the future was still anything I wanted it to be. I heard her, is the point. I heard her loud and clear.


image: David Wright