Big days don’t always end with a bang, but this one did.
Marie had planned for the canning and bake sale competition for months. She eyed her honey-brown hair height as she posed in the morning mirror. Yep, the crown for Martinsdale Marmalade Queen would fit perfectly. The Martinsdale Marmalade Festival was the biggest competition Meagher County had all year, at least as far as any woman graduated from high school was concerned. Marie’s competitive sauces were flowing along with everyone else. She pinched her lips together as she remembered grocery shopping one day and being spied on in the fruit section by her rival Thelma Sandbank. Winston waved and smiled as his stunted little wife Thelma pushed ahead of him. Thelma thought she would take the crown again for the fourth year in a row. Everyone knew her rosemary jelly was the best in two counties, but the seventy-year-old wasn’t letting anything by her and sidled up to Marie as she dove through the fresh huckleberry shipment like a hog on a mud pie. The huckleberries called to Marie with their gorgeous tight purple skin bursting with savory tartness. It was that moment that knew she’d win the crown.
Suddenly Thelma Sandbank was there.
“Hello Marie. Surely you know that a huckleberry jam would never win Preserve of the Year?” she sniveled.
Marie’s head whipped up and she watched the woman’s gnarled, worn-out fingers squeeze and then pop a huckleberry in the pile. Marie gulped, had she acted too eager?
Thelma continued, “Janet over on Sugar Lane has tried and tried with her fresh huckleberries. It’s just too common a fruit in these parts dear. You have to have a jam that gets their attention.” Thelma looked down her long crooked nose over her bifocals and smiled cynically. “And you’ll need something legendary if you want to beat out my rosemary.”
“Oh, hi Thelma, I was just thinking these would be great for some Christmas jams for my southern relatives. So you’re doing rosemary jam again then?”
“Yes, but I’ve changed the recipe, improved it, if it could ever be improved. I sent it to a gourmet chef in Los Angeles who told me just the thing to add. I’ll be keeping my crown for one more year.”
“I’m sure it will be delicious again.” Marie waved and gently pushed her loaded cart towards the milk and yogurt section. She glanced back and waved again at the still watching Thelma.
Marie wasn’t about to reveal her secret. She had also added a secret ingredient that she had heard would make all the judges faces change. She smiled in that glorious morning mirror again. Thelma wouldn’t even see it coming.
The crisp yellow day sparkled like a shimmering brook to Marie. She whistled and read her favorite blog on her iPhone, Supporting Godly Women. The verse made her smile and sing.
“Rejoice in the Lord always: [and] again I say, Rejoice.” Philippians 4:4
“Thank you God for keeping me singing all day long.” Of course, that meant to Marie that she would need to win the crown as well. She winked up towards heaven. She was sure He knew what she meant.
Her husband Rick and two children April and Dodson helped her load the jeep full of her racks of pies, chocolate cheese cake and snicker-doodle dumplings for the auction. She’d also made syrups for the pancake eating contest and finally her brown paper bags full of her secret jam recipe. For months she’d been so careful not to invite friends over while canning them. She had even canned her last batch in the middle of the night two weeks ago. She had left nothing to chance.
Rick and the children chatted happily about the foods they would see. The festival brought out the best cooks in the area. Old and young alike enjoyed everything from pickled pumpkin to yellow summer squash relishes. Marie tried not to think about all the other jams and jellies competing that day. If she won, she’d thank her husband and children for all their help and of course God for all His delicious creations.
They pulled into the already busy fair grounds and then set up. An anxious buzz filled the tents and canopies in the marmalade section and as Marie approached she looked for Thelma’s booth. Her name was there, but the booth sat silent. Hmm. That’s odd, she thought. Usually Thelma is here and was waiting for everyone else.
Marie set up her station and greeted people while keeping an eye on the empty booth. A gnawing excitement ate at her as the other competitors began to notice Thelma’s absence.
Patti wandered over to Marie’s table and pointed to Thelma’s. “Wonder where Thelma could be? She’s always ready before I get here.”
Susanne sauntered into the huddle and added, “Maybe her special gourmet recipe flopped and she’s too humiliated to come today.”
“You know she has bragged about it all year long she’d hardly miss the chance to rub it in.” Patti giggled. “I was snared by her at Lillie’s baby shower. I just can’t stand that woman.”
Marie felt trapped by the women. She didn’t want to say anything bad about Thelma. Gossip in a small town is almost impossible to avoid, but in this case she really wanted to. Someone as awful as Thelma deserved a little back talk after all. Then she remembered the verse today. These ladies went to her church. Maybe a change of subject would help.
“Hey, do you girls read that blog Sandy recommended, Supporting Godly Women? I thought the verse today was so wonderful. Philippians 4:4, Rejoice always and again I say rejoice. I feel like rejoicing on this beautiful day how about you?”
The other two glared.
“What?” Marie shrugged.
“We really need to get to the bottom of this Marie. Where could Thelma be?”
“I don’t know, I think we should all pray that she makes it and everything in her life is as spry as she is.”
Then a disturbance at Thelma’s table caught their attention. Winston had appeared and was setting up quickly. Not with jam but pistachio butter.
Marie walked over. “How can we help you Winston?”
“Thelma’s on her way. We had a terrible incident happen up at the cabin last night.”
“Oh?” Marie and Pattie asked in unison.
“A bear got into our pantry and broke all her special recipe jam. Thelma is madder then a wet hen about it. I told her that her pistachio butter is just fine but she is still trying to find even one salvageable jar in the mess.”
Marie grabbed her car keys and whispered to Rick, “I’ll be back.” When she got to Thelma’s cabin, she saw the hole in their back screen and the strewn pieces of their pantry laying about the lawn.
“Thelma?! Thelma!” She yelled. Then she heard crying. She went into the basement and saw Thelma sitting on the floor covered in rosemary jam from head to toe.
“Oh Thelma what happened?”
“A bear got in last night. Then I slipped and made a bigger mess of it.” she sobbed. “I haven’t got anything to taste test. This was going to be my last festival before we move south for good.”
“It’s just a silly old festival. What does it matter when you have already won four years in a row?” Marie asked gently.
“Oh, you don’t understand. I was going to pitch my jam recipe to Smuckers, they were ready to buy and that money would have set us up for our retirement. They just wanted to see how the improved flavor did at the festival before they buy it. Winston and I don’t have any more money saved. This was our last chance.” she sobbed again.
“Well, let me help you up. God will find a way. He always supplied your need before didn’t He?”
“Yes,” sniff, “I guess so.” she replied.
“Then don’t give up on Him now. Let’s see how He pulls it off.”
Later, as Marie drove Thelma into the festival, she got an idea. Winston sat miserable and alone in their stations and waved them in. “They just announced that the judges are coming. Did you find any jars?”
Thelma shook her head as her bottom lip quivered. “No.”
“Wait right here.” Marie squeezed her arm and ran over to her own delicate spread. She grabbed her special recipe jam and took it to Thelma. “Taste this.”
Thelma took a spoonful and her eyes lit up in surprise. “Huckleberry Honey Jalapeño?”
“Yep. Use it. I just know it’s going to win.”
“You’re right! It would beat my rosemary any day. But I can’t use it.” Thelma replied.
“Yes, you can and you will.” Marie smiled and then swiped Thelma’s pistachio butter.”
The judge walked up behind her with a spoon and took a bite of the Huckleberry. His eyes went wide and a huge smile lit his face. “Thelma, you’ve done it again! You are the Marmalade Queen!”
Marie smiled and rejoiced inside. Thelma looked at her with tears in her eyes and mouthed “Thank You.” When they crowned Thelma Queen her eyes landed on Marie again. Marie knew her recipe was a winner that day.
Later that month she received a card from Thelma.
We can’t thank you enough for your help at the festival. The tasters here at Smuckers loved my rosemary jam they said they’ll take it. The payment was enough to buy us a town home in Tucson AZ. We couldn’t be happier. They also loved your Huckleberry Honey Jalapeño. Here is their offer for yours. I’m sure it will pay for your children’s college tuition’s and then some. Thank you again.
Marie unfolded the offer and rejoiced again, “Thank you God for all your delicious creations!”
The Moral of the story: God’s idea of a crown might be a little different than ours, but it is just as rewarding to receive.
God bless you today.