To anthropomorphize the flora, the huge maple in my grandparents’ backyard saw much. Granddad built that house by hand in the 1920s and the tree was already big. It became a host to the 7-year locusts that arrived when I was 5 and again at 12 and 19. Their translucent leavings were great sport and science and art.
You can peek behind my sister and me to see part of the massive maple’s trunk. We are between the BBQ and the picnic table Granddad added. We had just returned from being part of the Occupation Army in Japan. Our parents had divorced. She and I were jolly and good friends.
Under that tree there was no smithy but it was a neighborhood and family witness. Not the least of the events were vegetable related. Sure, we had hundreds of family and extended family gatherings there, but the bees were more frequent and memorable.
I can display my BY-CRACKY card here. My three sons did not grow up with my country trappings. The youngest is 23 and his cohort is far less likely to have cultivated beans. For many, the term string bean is only an insult for a skinny kid and not a thing. It’s like when they see a typewriter or an old computer keyboard with RETURN on one on the keys where Enter is now. As millennials might say, “What does that even mean?”
Baskets of beans
Under that tree gathered conscripted labor (we kids), my Grandmother Mable’s sister Ann, Suzy Cunningham from across the yard, Mrs. Heinz from catercorner, and sometimes Mable’s brother’s families.
Mable and Granddad played a vegetable game. Come harvest and canning time, she’d say to him, “Bill, I could use a few beans (or peas or limas or whatever).” He and I grew his gardens. He called them diminutively patches. As his coworker, I knew they were an acre or more each — big.
A few beans meant several bushels. He and I bent to the task and the next day would deliver these. Mable would deliver the hands. Of course, they came for both the social aspect and a cut of the harvest.
Stringing and shucking
For you dazzling urbanites and young folk, know that green beans used to have inedible spines, those strings, hence string beans. To prepare them for cooking or canning, you’d hold the bean in one hand, snap the top with the other and peel the string the length of the bean, discarding the string.
In most situations, you’d also snap the bean into bit-sized pieces. Hence, snap bean.
For their part, lima beans and peas were hell on thumbs and definitely not the kids’ favorite. You’d need to squeeze the pod with both thumbs, pop it open, then run a finger the length of the pod to extract the goodies into a bowl. Repeat hundreds or thousands of times.
Adults got into a rhythm. There was lubricating iced tea, and gossip, and teasing, and family stories.
In the end, the women each left with a stock of beans or peas to enjoy, or an oral voucher for jars of the canned goods. We kids got meager offerings of Fudgsicles or maybe homemade ice cream. Our thumbs were red and sore. The gossip and family tales were less thrilling.