comes to mind when you hear pink butterbeans? I posed
the question to my critique group, a creative bunch of vivid
imaginations, and they fed me just what I wanted.
love it!" Susie said. "It sounds homey, comforting,
soft, girly, southern--makes me sigh."
southern, earthy," Colleen offered.
and homegrown," Currie said.
think of my grandmother's kitchen," Chance commented.
"There were always beans at meals, and a lot of the time,
they were butterbeans. It makes me feel warm, like home."
picture lush, plump beans piled high on a plate, salted and
buttered and steaming," Kristin said. "The anticipation
makes my mouth water!"
remind me of my grandmother. She lived on a farm and tended
a big vegetable garden. It was behind the old white farmhouse,
at the rear of the smokehouse, and had a wire fence around
it. A hydrangea bush stood at the gate, zinnias grew at the
ends of vegetable rows, and morning glories and pink roses
climbed the fence.
when the garden came in, Grandma pulled on her brown scuffed
work boots and a faded, pink-flowered bonnet, took a few pails,
and went out early to pick dew-kissed squash, pole beans,
okra, cucumbers, field peas, tomatoes, and butterbeans.
she sat in a wide green rocking chair on the front porch,
a white enamelware pan in her lap, and shelled the butterbeans
in slow, methodical rhythm with the rocker's movement. Sometimes
I sat beside her and helped. I stuck my thumbnail into the
rounded outside edge of the hull and opened it. A few butterbeans
popped loose and fell into the pan, one by one. They added
up fast, and after a while, there was a whole pile of them.
I loved the look and feel of those fleshy, heart-shaped butterbeans.
Sometimes I'd slide my hands under the pile, gather some in
each hand, lift them up, then let them fall between my spread
fingers back into the pan. Then I'd do it again.
cooked some of the beans for the noon meal and served a steaming,
soupy, buttered bowlful with hot skillet cornbread. Then she
canned the rest of them and set the jars on a shelf in the
pantry. By the end of harvest, jars were lined up one after
the other on narrow shelves that went from floor to ceiling.
During winter months, she'd pull out a jar and serve those
lush, plump butterbeans, fresh and warm with a taste of the
earth and summer sun.
50 essays in this book are like that, too--fresh, warm, and
picked from a southern garden. Delightful servings that hold
the essence of the land, the land that is so much a part of
me, the land called Hill Country, home of my father, my grandfather,
and my great grandfathers. Land that I now own. It's that
land and everything around it--red clay dirt, fresh cool spring
water that trickles under oaks and chinquapins and muscadine
vines into a grassy pasture, brown-needled paths under tall
pines, and fields of cotton, corn, peanuts and broomstraw.
it's the land called Delta, my home, that evocative black
land, with its relentless heat, its interminable rows of white
cotton, its flatness, mile after mile as far as you can see,
all the way to the horizon, and its complexities and hidden
secrets and haunting mysteries--you can feel it and sense
it all around you, and it comes up and sits on your skin.
all this that makes the South a character in its own right.
And it's from all this that I pull up out of myself the deepest
thoughts and feelings and experiences that make me who I am.
place them before you--stories from the heart of a southern
woman--like a serving of those heart-shaped butterbeans. It's
good to sample them fresh, then pull them out later and savor
them again and again.
Butterbeans sums up the style of your essays,"Currie
said. "Heartfelt and unpretentious."
late summer, the watermelons came in. It was a good time for
a trip to the farm. A visit to Grandpa's watermelon patch
for a slice of sweet, succulent pink pulp was a simple pleasure
of my childhood.
afternoon, when scorching Miss'ippi sun slid halfway between
noon and sunset and sneaked behind tops of tall trees, Grandpa'd
say in his slow, southern drawl, "Come on, y'all younguns.
Let's go get a watermelon." After a hard morning's work
in the fields, he was ready to frolic with his five grandchildren.
squeal and skip barefooted across the yard to the yellow dirt
lane beside the barn where Grandpa hitched Dixie, the old
mare, to the slide. A slide is a homemade sled, of sorts.
It's a bunch of boards nailed together to form a flat, four-foot
square platform on runners--no sides, used for transporting
people or supplies. Pulled by a horse under the same principle
as a plow, it slides smoothly over a dirt trail.
stood on the slide, guiding the horse, geeing and hawing.
If I were an artist, I'd sketch a picture, capturing the particulars
of Grandpa's profile. The folds and creases in the khaki work
pants hanging loosely on his tall, gaunt frame, knees slightly
bent. Scuffed brown brogans, heels touching, toes pointing
out. The straw hat skewed forward and sideways. Shadows cast
across his sun-bronzed face. The high points and angles of
his bones etched above hollow cheeks. Lips, thin and taut,
set to a task. Deep coal eyes, pools in furrows like the long
rows of crops he worked in every day. Purple veins carved
around brown spots on weathered, leather hands that clutched
worn reins loosely, moving up and down, rhythmically, like
someone shaking a sieve, searching for gold, giving little
tugs now and then.
grandchildren sat on rough planks, cross-legged or legs hanging
off the back of the slide, dragging our bare feet in the yellow
dirt. The ride in itself was a treat. Sometimes, we rode quietly,
slowly flowing along, listening to the sound of the runners
scrape against the bare earth or Dixie's chains rattling a
slow ragtime beat to the clop
clop clop clop of her hooves.
Sometimes, we squealed as the slide hit a bump and jostled
us. Sometimes, we giggled or played with a dog trotting beside
us, barking. Always, we were anxious to get there.
plodded between the white cottonpatch and tall, tasselling
rows of corn until the road forked. The left fork curved northward
to the pond and pasture. In the middle of the fork, in a field
of broomstraw, a plum tree spread its gnarled arms, teeming,
overflowing with plump fruit. The right fork hugged the northern
edge of the woods and emptied into the watermelon patch, its
twisted vines rambling to and fro, umbilicals to the luscious
striped green gourds.
tiptoed among the trailing vines and thumped the possibilities,
those having ripened in the sun's oven that day. He picked
out the ripest one from a whole field of choices. After making
a selection, he took his long pocketknife and in slow motion,
sliced open the melon, as the grandchildren eagerly waited
to see the inside. The oblong fruit was first sliced in half,
and then the long halves with ripe, red centers, were cut
in two. My mouth watered as I awaited my wedge of the sun-warmed,
wet, yet crisp flesh.
I bit into the watermelon, sweet syrup stained my cheeks,
dribbled down my chin, dripped onto my cotton shirt, and rolled
in streams across my dusty legs. I swallowed the pink pulp,
and I spat out all the black, slippery seeds. "Y’all
younguns, be sure to spit out the seeds," Grandpa always
warned. "A watermelon will sprout and grow in your stomach."
I believed him.
always eat one watermelon and load a few on the slide to take
back, the grandchildren guarding them, making sure they didn't
roll off. When it was time to go home, we left the patch sticky
and dirty, but full and satisfied.
visit to Grandpa's watermelon patch is an analogy of life.
We go after what we want. We're eager to "get there."
We try to make good choices. We wait anxiously to see the
results of our choices. We relish the good. We spit out the
bad. When it's time to go, we leave fulfilled.