The Sweet Reward

By Mary Helen Hynes

Near the end of an August day my father came home
with bushels of peaches in the back of his dusty Chevy truck.
The peaches are ripe and tender to touch,
marbled red, umber, orange, purple, yellow, pink.
They look like a year or more of sunsets
tumbled together in our weather worn gray baskets.
My father lifts his offering to our table and,
wordless, my mother begins.
Out come canning jars, the large pans,
paper sacks of sugar, boxes of new lids. She fills
the sink with water and she fills the pans
with water. On that hot August day, in that
steaming kitchen, flies came, called to gather
by a sweet peach smell. And working without talking
my parents cut and boiled and ladled. It was
my job to carry bowls full of skins and stones
to the chickens, flies circling my head, trailing behind me.
“It will be worth it when winter comes,”
is all that my father says as the screen door snaps.
My mother doesn’t say anything. The back of her wrist stops
sweat from slipping toward her eyes.
She nods toward the gleaming jars. She is long used to waiting
and well knows the worth of any sweet reward.