Times were always hard, back on the farm, when I was a kid. Some years, however, were worse than others, and one of the worst for us occurred when I was 9 years old.
It had been an unusually dry summer and both the corn and hay crops that we relied upon to feed the cattle and hogs through the winter, were less than meager. To add to the financial stress of the farm, my youngest sister had required hospitalization a couple of times. Even though I was just a kid, I had been able to see the worry in the eyes and hear it in the voices of my parents all through that fall. I knew that it would take all the money we had to buy extra “store-bought” feed to supplement the livestock and pay off medical bills. As a typical 9-year-old, I began to suspect Christmas would probably be as bare as the cornstalks had been.
The big garden that we always raised, was as devastated by the drought as the field crops, but the green beans had managed to mature before the worst of the dryness and Mom had been able to can at least a couple hundred quart jars of the produce to store in the damp, dark safety of the fruit cellar. Always a wonderful cook, she must have found a hundred different ways to prepare the vegetable, but we still had green beans twice per day, every day, for most of the year, and I swear that if she had found a way to cook them for breakfast, we would have had them three times per day. By the time Christmas rolled around, it was my contention that green beans were only slightly better than nothing at all.
The day before Christmas, my mother had gone around and secretly asked each of her three children what she could make for the big dinner the following day. That would be her gift to us. My oldest sister asked if there was any ham left in the smokehouse and, when Mom said there was, she wanted a big mess of fried ham. My youngest sister requested Mom’s famous vanilla cream pie, with extra-thick meringue on top. When she approached me, about my request, I can remember, as plain as day, saying, “Could we please NOT have green beans.”
The next day turned out to be the most memorable Christmas of my childhood. We opened presents that morning and I was given the .22 rifle that had been my father’s and his father’s before, but it was mine now. It didn’t even dawn on me at the time, but this was a gift that I still treasure to this day, but did not require my parents to spend a single dime.
When dinner was served, there was a huge mound of fried ham, three gigantic vanilla cream pies, heaped with meringue that had to be 4-inches thick, and a monstrous pot of…black-eyed peas. I love black-eyed peas.
My youngest sister asked, “Where are the green beans? We always have green beans.”
Mom replied, “Oh, I found this jar of peas on the back shelf, and decided to cook them instead,” as she glanced toward me and gave a sly wink.
I hope everyone had a Merry, green-bean free, Christmas.
Jerry Crownover is a farmer and former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University. He is a native of Baxter County, Arkansas, and an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry, go to ozarksfn.com and click on ‘Contact Us.’