Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Bean Pickin' Time

Go down any road in the hills around my hometown of Beloved right about now and look around. Walk up any holler and you'll see the same scene repeated over and over again.

Early in the morning, while it is still cool, go lookin'. Over to the side of the creek or up the holler you'll see Sister Hazel Budder or maybe Irene Collins, dressed in long pants and a long sleeved shirt come out from the farmhouse and head for the garden. Sister Hazel's head might be covered with a straw hat or Irene's with a bonnet. Here and yonder you might find an older woman in a long dress. There ain't nothin' in this world that would get her to put on a pair of pants. As she wades through the garden the hem of her dress gets wet with dew.

They each head into the neat rows of the garden. When they get to the rows of beans they stop. They look up and down the rows quietly before they begin. Each surveys the fruition of their hard work. They think back over the spring and the many days dedicated to planting, weeding, watering and tending row after row of beans.

Wherever you see the scene repeated you will see the same pause. Then each will bend and push aside the thick cover of leaves to expose beans, pole beans, bush beans, Kentucky wonder, blue lake, purple snaps, half runners, string beans, trail of tears, old homesteads, Italian flat and the favorite of hill folks, greasy beans.

Folks start early to avoid the heat. As they bend over the rows of beans their hands never stop, pulling handfuls at a time, throwin' the handfuls into a galvanized bucket till it is full.

That first bucket goes into the house quickly to be broken and put on to boil. A big piece of ham, maybe a ham hock or some jowl bacon goes in with a little bit of chopped onion. The big pot is allowed to boil before it is turned down to a simmer.

With that each kitchen door opens and each woman heads to the garden to pick bucket after bucket of beans. They are spread out on clean sheets or tablecloths as each bucket is emptied. Not one bean is missed.

The rest of the day is spent on the porch or maybe in the kitchen. An old apron becomes the workspace and quick hands break up dozens and hundreds of beans. Big washbasins fill with the broken harvest.

Soon enough everyone in the family joins in as jars are boiled and lids are scalded. The beans are washed and put into waiting jars. The kitchen is a beehive of activity as pressure cookers are filled with new jars of beans.

All day for several days they repeat the drill, filling jar after jar. Row after row gives up beans and no one stops till each and every bean is broken, every jar filled, every lid turned and tightened.

Finally the furious pace stops. The last jar comes out of the pressure cooker. Each is turned upside down to cool so a good seal is assured as the contents cool off.

Folks can sit a little longer on the porch. They listen to the familiar pop of jar lids sealing. Someone counts each one till each and every jar has called out the "all is well".

Them pots of beans simmerin' on the stove tasted right good each night. Heads bow over full plates as farm families thank the good Lord for His bounty. Weary bodies are filled and restored with the harvest.

Tired feet lift off the floor and push under ancient quilts. Worn hands pull quilts up over weary bodies. There are long moments of silence as tired families have the satisfaction of remembering hundreds of quarts of beans canned. Each Mason jar is lined in rows, standing at attention, waiting for the winter. That is prepared contentment.

As folks drift off to sleep, someone always has the thought. A voice always speaks up with the same thought...

"We start pickin' tomatoes next week."

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Beloved, Kentucky

Imagine a little mountain community nestled between the ancient hills of Appalachia. It is a community that was settled around a good year round spring and one of the largest salt licks in eastern Kentucky. Folks reckon that's why folks came to the valley and settled the little town called Beloved.

It ain't much, as towns go. There are only eight or ten streets in the whole town. Main Street never got busy enough to have a stop light. Folks don't hardly need the stop signs on some of the side streets.

Downtown consists of about twelve buildings. The biggest building is the grocery store. Down the street is Founder's Square. That is where the springs are. They still flow year round. There is a dug well close to the springs. That well is full of the sweetest water a feller will find anywhere. In the Square is a white enclosed gazebo sort of building that contains the body of Sleepy Jean Sizemore. Some folks say she is in there sleepin' since 1911. Most say she fell into a coma and died and her body is just preserved some way. If you get to know the family, they might take you in and let you get a glimpse of her body an' y'all can judge for yourself.

There is a Carnegie Library in town right down past the Phineas Nutt Masonic Lodge. The lodge is made from beautiful Tennessee sandstone brought from the Cumberland Plateau and worked by hand by some of the Masonic brothers back in the late 1800s. Men sit on benches outside of the Carnegie Library daily and whittle. They talk softly to themselves and tell tales and lie to each other only to swear each story is the "gospel truth". When school is out a group of youngin's gather often to hear the stories and watch as the old men carefully whittle.

Annie Pankey has a small shop not much further down the street. She calls it "Pankey's Hankies" and sells antiques, quilts and old lace good.

Outside the town are a few small homes, well kept and regularly painted. In that neck of the woods 'bout everything gets painted on a regular basis if it ain't movin' or breathin'. In the heat of the day folks can be seen gatherin' on the front porches or under shade trees to cool off.

Follow the main road out of town and you'll end right back up on Route 66. The main road is merely a loop off and back onto the big road. Keep on going up along the Red Bird River and you'll come to Beverly and the Red Bird Mission Hospital.

Go off some of the side roads and you'll find yourself windin' your way up Booger Holler Road or maybe Arnett's Fork, Old Punky Creek or Gilbert's Branch. Up on Booger Holler is Booger Holler Holiness Church where Brother Woodrow Budder is preacher. Folks around them parts say that Booger is a Cherokee word for a Medicine Man and Booger Holler is where a Cherokee Medicine Man lived. Other folks say it is called Booger Holler because Big Jim Arnett and Dick Gray had a spook callin' contest up near there.

The hills are full and a thousand shades of green during the summer. Springtime is the sweetest to the eye. The hills are full of dogwood, redbud, sourwood trees filled with blooms and a favorite stoppin' point for any honeybee anywhere near. The greens are tentative and slow to start. The flowering trees are not bashful and burst out in bloom like they was shoutin', "looky. looky, look at me."

Folks live at a slower pace in and around Beloved. Its sort of like they know that God took a slice of Eden and nestled it in them hills. They never forget to stop an' enjoy what they got.