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Pass the Peas, Please

My wife, Mary Lou, and I were sitting out on the front porch with our neighbors a few days ago. ML and I had been quite busy, having put up 20 quarts of field peas, 9 quarts of fresh butterbeans, a dozen ears of fresh sweet corn and 12 jars of new crop Mayhaw Jelly.

Actually, we purchase the Mayhaw Jelly. I took ML into a swamp the first year we were married to gather the mayhaws, which as the locals all know will only grow naturally in lowlands or swamps. We waded out chest deep in the water and spread some plastic to catch the fruit as I shook the limbs. Of course, she thought every small limb that fell was a snake. She does not like snakes.

While I thought of this as an adventure, my new wife was ready to reconsider her vows. Till death do us part did not mean wading in swamps, not even for berries that produce the world’s best jelly.
That was 43 years ago. Agreeing with her is one reason we are still married and why we buy our mayhaw jelly from someone else each year.

We did agree on some things during our first summer together. We both loved the little white peas, butterbeans, sweet corn, new potatoes and all the other things that come from the gardens in a rural area.

That is when, Gary, our neighbor, said to no one in particular that he did not like peas. You could have heard a pin drop on the porch. I was literally speechless. I did what anyone in my position would have done, I asked him where he grew up. It turns out that Gary is as southern as they come, with Auburn roots that go back even further than my own.

Still, it was hard for my mind to process. Peas were one of the ways you judged the value of your friendship before anyone had any money. After all, you had to shell those things and it was one of the things that children could do along with their elders. I still remember sitting under a tree with my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, shelling peas. Just when my siblings and I thought we were done, someone would hand us another bowl. “Just one more”, they would say.

Because you had to work so hard to shell them, you were particular who you shared them with. I can still remember riding my bike out to the Phillips house on the edge of town. If I timed it right, I might get invited for lunch and Miss Sara always seemed to have peas. Of course, she also had six kids so there were more pea shellers at her house than mine.

Funerals are something a kid never wants to attend, but then I discovered the spread the church bereavement committee would put on for the family and friends. There would always be peas, usually several different bowls prepared by different ladies in the church. I would always get just a small helping from each bowl to determine who was the best pea cook in town. It often depended on how much bacon they used to season their peas.

Sometime in the late 60’s someone invented a small tabletop pea sheller. It mashed probably a third of the peas as you forced them through the two rollers. Occasionally, it would catch your finger. I did not care. I would take a mashed finger any day before having to sit and shell the peas, even if I did love them. To this day, I consider the pea sheller one of the five greatest inventions of all time, ranking up there with a television remote, a safety razor, a microwave oven, and the 8-track tape.

Gary’s wife, Marcia, says the first thing she is going to do if Gary should have an early demise is to build a swimming pool. We are all for that since it would be right next door to us. However, I have a vision in my mind as I pay my final respects to Gary. As I sit down at the table to toast his memory, the first words I will utter will be “Pass the peas, please”.