jam by a friend
Oil on canvas board
8" X 6"
By James Eaton
The strong, tart odor of pomegranate jam filled the kitchen, marking a solitary moment for a solitary man, alone in
the dark and sitting at the end of a long wood table. This was his second meal, just hours after a formal family
dinner of lamb, eggplant, and dry red wine. It had been a large gathering and included aunts and uncles, siblings
and cousins, the parish priest and several elderly friends. But now, it was quiet. The kitchen was scrubbed and
clean. The house was still, but tonight, everyone was alone.
Abel Danielian was tired of conversation and accommodating others. His mood was restive. He preferred to sit at the
edge of table, outside the harsh pool of ceiling light focused on the open jar. Sitting alone, where darkness
illuminates memory and moments mingle in the pensive repose of quiet thought, he addressed a plate of cold lamb
and the tart pomegranate jam combining to bring a sad peace. He was no longer a grandchild visiting the old home
on a holiday. On the day of his grandmother’s funeral, this was a moment of maturity.
Since moving away, he didn’t eat lamb often and never tasted the pomegranate jam now accenting the strangeness
of being once again enshrouded by ancient familiar surroundings. A gathering of extended family, grown to
adulthood, in their grandmother’s home, was pungent, tart, and not an entirely sweet event. Egos were on display
and old fires reignited. The jar containing the jam reflected the moment like a crystal of indeterminate value
refracting the overhead light brightly illuminating the table, but quickly surrendering to the gathering darkness at
the table’s edge. Refracting glass and translucent jam turned into an ambiguous red and purple jewel of light and
dark, like an uncut ruby waiting for the jeweler’s hand.
Earlier in the day, before the family meal, he was dispatched, like a small boy on an errand, to the old musty cellar to
bring up the last bottles of pomegranate jam for the table. The cellar stairs strained under the weight of a grown
man. He could tell his aging grandmother had not been in the disorderly cellar for a long time. The cold smell of
earth and mildew grew stronger as he descended ten poorly lit stairs leading into the darkness. The stonewalls were
damp and the wood stairs and shelves decayed. The old coal shuttle opening to the outside at ground level had
leaked rain and snow for years, accelerating a quiet deterioration of wood and nail. Turning on a flashlight, he
could see a dozen jars of various jams with single white labels marking the contents of each shelf. On each label,
hand written in Armenian, was the name of the jam. Not speaking the language of his grandmother, he didn’t
know which jar contained pomegranate jam, so he brought up three jars, each from different shelves, hoping one
was pomegranate jam. Offering the jars to his mother, she held each to the bright kitchen light, nodding “yes”, the
third jar was the one.
Pomegranate jam has a suppressed sweetness, with a cranberry overtone. It is a mature flavor, offering a dark
pungent rush followed by a tart, vinegar after taste. More a nectar, pomegranate jam is not for bread; it is a
condiment for beef or lamb. Derived from a thickened juice, pomegranate jam is made in the late fall or early winter.
Reserved for ceremonial and family events, its flavor is reminiscent of more than meals, it is part of a tradition
stretching back generations through Southern Europe, the Middle East and Persia. More than jam, it possesses the
taste and smell of a different place and a now past generation.
With the clumsiness of a man alone in the kitchen, he left a trail of dribbled jam on the table. A woman would be
more careful, not trickling the valuable nectar, but a man, less subtle, scoops deeply with a knife, leaving too much
jam on the blade, trailing jam like sacred blood from the jar to the plate. Now, sitting alone in the kitchen, having
finished his solitary meal, he could hear a train several miles away, making its way up the grade along the tracks by
the river. The chilly night air was heavy with moisture and sounds traveled great distances like a lonely muted siren
calling men to memory. A clock on the wall ticketed off the minutes with a soft click and the refrigerator cycled
down and grew quiet.
“Getting something to eat,” the voice of his mother yawned from behind as she entered the room. She wore an old
comfortable pink bathrobe and thin blue slippers.
“I woke you?” Abel turned to see her enter the room and sit down next to him at the edge of the light circling the
“I could smell the jam from the bedroom. Grama used to squeeze the pomegranates by hand to make the juice, then
she simmered it with vinegar and sugar.” She lifted the open jar to her nose and inhaled deeply. “I could always
smell this, anywhere in the house, when she opened a jar.”
The two figures were alone in the kitchen for a quiet moment, each looking at the open jar of pomegranate jam. “I
will miss this place. I will miss pomegranate jam,” he said with the halting sadness of a small boy at his first
“Yes, we’ll all miss the house,” she said looking around the kitchen. “But I’ll make pomegranate jam next year for
He looked at her from the corner of his eyes, and then back to his plate.
“And I’ll teach that Mormon girlfriend of yours to make it too.” She looked at her son with a tired, reassuring smile.
The mother and son sat quietly alone in the dark kitchen for a minute while the old clock ticked softly. In the
distance, both could hear the straining train arrive at the top of the grade and begin its acceleration on the tracks
out of town. – Jim Eaton