Yesterday, I spent the day with my grandmother…who will be called Granny for the rest of this post, because that is who she is. Her name is Granny. Yes, she was a Granny at age 40…and that may seem a bit young to be called Granny to all you Nanas and Mimis and GiGis out there… but Granny is the O.G….and for those of you who haven’t watched any National Geographic shows on gangs, O.G. stands for Original Gangster…or in this case…Original Granny.
I spent the day with my Granny to learn a specific skill. I wanted to learn how to can green beans. No one’s. I mean No One’s green beans are better than my Granny’s. I suspect they will be in heaven, but I have no firm evidence of that. However, I can think of no good reason why they wouldn’t be. I have eaten these green beans my entire life. They are at every Christmas, Thanksgiving, and most other family gatherings. I can’t describe them to you. They aren’t complicated…just green beans….and I love them.
I can remember as a small child going to my Pa and Granny’s and sitting under a tree, stringing green beans, breaking beans, shucking corn, silking corn. Now, before you think I was the victim of child labor…I’m PRETTY sure that most of what I did was eat watermelon and run around the yard playing and getting in the way. I do remember however, the exact way the kitchen smelled….like coffee mixed with a touch of fried food and maybe a little cantaloupe. I can’t explain that really, and it is difficult to put into words….its just my memory. The kitchen table, the wooden cabinets, the linoleum floor. The Mountain Dew in the fridge. The leftover cornbread wrapped up on the counter top. The sound my Pa’s feet made on the steps as he walked up to the kitchen calling out, “Is anybody home?!”… with his black lunchbox, his overalls, his five o clock shadow. He would swoop me up and give me a kiss with his scratchy face. He smelled like coffee and sawdust…and maybe a touch of sweat. My world was perfect. Meanwhile…while we played, somewhere in that house, quite possibly the hardest working woman on the planet was busy running her home.
So I needed to learn how to can. Granny’s canned green beans don’t grow on trees, and after canning thousands of cans of green beans, it occurred to me that one day, my Granny might not want to keep canning. I remember canning being a hot endeavor. I remember it being a long day filled with women in the kitchen doing various tasks. I remember hot water, jiggly large silver pots, shiny glass jars lined up like soldiers in rows on towels on the table. I was ready for the challenge.
So I put the word out to my Aunt Teresa. I need to be part of canning this year. She discussed this with Granny. I got the call. I was in. A bushel of green beans would be arriving on Wednesday evening. I am off work on Thursdays. Perfect timing.
Now when I was a kid, bushel baskets were round wooden baskets, smaller at the bottom than the top. They looked huge to me then. I was intimidated then, and frankly, still am. I arrived at 9am as planned on Thursday morning. I saw a rather plain and not that big looking box of green beans on the screened in porch. A box?? What is this?? It was not round, it was square. My childhood memory had to adjust just a bit. I wasn’t sure if this was really a bushel! Seems a little small. This will probably not take long, I thought. Maybe she decided to not get a bushel. Well, I went on in…not knocking…just walking in to a house where I know I am as welcome as I am my own…a house that isn’t the home of my original childhood memories, but it is the home of my memories for the past several years…and it is the home of the Great Bean Lesson of 2018.
So Granny was already sitting in her recliner, a newspaper on her lap, a large silver pot beside her, stringing and breaking beans at a measured pace, rocking a bit by using her toe to push off the floor. “Well hey there” she said. “Hey” I replied as I grabbed a newspaper, a pile of beans, and took a seat in the chair beside her. I started stringing….and breaking.
And before you think this Hallmark movie ends in about 2 hours with rows of pretty jars and a hug….let me just set you straight.
I arrived at 9. I started at 9:05. You want to know what I was doing at 10:05….stringing and breaking green beans. You want to know what I was doing at 11:05…stringing and breaking green beans. You want to know what I was doing at 12:05…praying to the Baby Jesus that I would get to the bottom of that “rather small” box of beans on the porch. I begin to think that Mitchell had brought a magic box of beans. What kind of beans were the Bell’s growing out there in that field? Had God sent a miracle box of beans…were we supposed to can until we could feed the masses? I have to work tomorrow! There has to be an end in sight! After about my fourth trip outside with the bucket to get more beans, my Granny quietly asked, “have you seen the bottom of the box yet?” Was my panic evident? She knows I didn’t take the ENTIRE WEEKEND OFF WORK to do this doesn’t she. I looked up and saw a smile on her face. She sat quietly in her recliner….stringing and breaking…taking a sip of coffee….apparently not remotely aware that beans were multiplying on her porch for the love of all that is HOLY!!!! I calmly replied, “yes…I just found it…because I went looking for it…I dug around in the box until I found it!”. Granny laughed…and then began to tell me that this was her least favorite part of beans. We discussed how time consuming it was. We discussed how our finger and thumb were kind of hurting a bit. We kept on stringing and breaking. Oh, and did I mention, that this was the 2nd bushel of beans she has done this week! My Aunt and Uncle were here a few days ago doing a bushel.
We talked about things when she was younger. We talked about things now. We talked about her life. We talked about my life. Sometimes we didn’t talk at all. The house was quiet. We didn’t turn the TV on…because it was on the fritz …come to find out the remote needed new batteries. We just sat and worked. Not hurriedly….not wasting time either. No music. No nothing. Just the sound of beans and conversation. She talked about putting up 100 quarts of beans/year….in addition to peaches, tomatoes, vegetable soup. She talked about the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction from canning. She talked about family. Some of whom I had never heard of. She talked about a world that frankly, no longer exists. And for the most part…that is not a bad thing. I am glad that we all have electric or gas heat, A/C, washers/dryers, TV’s, cell phones. Not for one minute would I glamorize what was, from what I can figure, an incredibly hard life. I don’t have to haul wood or water. I don’t have to hang my clothes on a line. I don’t HAVE to can green beans…
So finally we had a pot of beans. Now, while Granny calmly sat and broke beans, I was not so calm. Oh, on the outside I think I was…but I kept catching myself trying to figure out a more efficient way to do this. How could we speed this process up? Maybe we should stop and start doing some actual CANNING….all this stringing and breaking nonsense. Would we get done in time? There has to be a way to do 2 parts of the process at the same time! We just kept breaking beans. I began to realize that I spend most of my life trying to get to the next thing I am planning on doing. I am constantly doing multiple things at the same time. I multitask for about 9 hours/day when I’m at work, and if I stop doing that, I am not sure what would happen. But it isn’t just at work. I rush into the weekend with a To Do list about 3 pages long. I run from store to store. I have 3 things going on at home. I measure how much time I have to spend in one place, with one person, in order to get to the next thing or person. I don’t really sit still…and if I am sitting still, you can rest assured that my mind is not. I have things to do people!!!
But you know what I did Thursday? I did beans. And no amount of my fretting sped up the process. Granny was the boss of the day and I wisely kept my mouth shut…and realized that this was nice. I was only focused on one task. Beans. I was spending time with my Granny. Beans. I wasn’t watching TV and reading a book, and checking FB. Beans. Just. Beans.
Now, we did stop at noon and had a sandwich. We did put some beans on before we finished stringing and breaking ALL the beans. I did learn how full to fill the jars, how much water, how much salt, how long to cook. This isn’t really an exact science because when Granny is your teacher, you get the feeling that she just KNOWS. She has been doing it for so long that she just knows. She rarely sets a timer, she watches the clock. She adjusts the burner temperature, she gives a little stir. She warns me of the steam…more than once. She trusts me to carry the heavy pots…but then I wonder if when she sees me she sees the 6 year old little girl running around her yard with a piece of watermelon. I see the same Granny. Maybe she sees the same me. I have sense enough to know that neither one of us are the same as we were even 5 years ago, much less 40.
Finally we got that box of beans (that was, in fact, an entire bushel weighing in at 32 pounds) emptied, praise Jesus! The jars were filled. The dishes washed. We went to dinner with some of my Aunts and Uncles. Granny ate green beans at dinner. I did not:)
My mom and dad could have taught me how to can green beans. For that matter, I can go to the grocery store and buy all the green beans I can carry. I realized that that wasn’t what I really wanted. I wanted to learn from Granny. I wanted to listen to her stories. I knew she would listen to mine.
I learned the value of a can of green beans and let me tell you it is priceless. I learned to sit still. I learned to turn off the TV and the phone and the music and just focus on the task at hand….and enjoy it….and know that it will be finished when it is finished and not before.
I don’t know if my Granny will ever stop canning. I hope not, but realistically, she might one day. In the meantime, beets, beans, tomatoes, soup, jellies beware. Jane Edna Bell Huggins is coming for you. The O.G. will own you and you can not escape. All while calmly stringing and breaking, one bean at a time.