Friday afternoon we picked two five-gallon buckets of peas from our garden. I picked the Black Crowder peas while Larry worked on the White Acres. Larry taught our grandson Stuart the fine art of pea picking. He has a way to go yet, but we’re working on him. When the picking was finished, Larry and I settled in chairs under the oak trees to shell the peas. After the general conversation flagged, I began reminiscing.
My mother never learned to drive so she was completely dependent on Daddy for transportation until we girls grew up. She’d have us ready to go when Daddy came home at 5 p.m. Mama, Sarah Nell, and I would be waiting on the front porch with buckets and washtubs, and by 5:30 we’d all be picking peas in Grandpa’s field out in the backside of Jeff Davis County. If insect repellent existed back then, we didn’t know about it, and South Georgia summers were just as miserable then as they are now. Mama was a slave driver. When she said pick peas, we picked peas. We picked until her three washtubs were filled or the peas ran out-whichever came first. The peas never ran out. Three was the magic number because that was all she could fit in Daddy’s big trunk.
Back at home she spread the peas on newspapers on the screened porch to keep them from “going through a heat.” The next morning as Daddy was leaving for work, we were already on the porch shelling peas into Mama’s big dishpans. Mama joined us as soon as she’d welcomed the children she babysat. Some of them were old enough to be interested in helping and were given assorted pots and pans to shell into. Mama directed a motley workforce. It’s amazing that we accomplished anything at all, but she knew how to manage us. As the sun traveled across the sky toward noon, the peas accumulated in the dishpans. When one filled, Mama would leave us temporarily to go “put on a cooking.”
As we worked, we talked. Mama told us stories of her own childhood, of shelling peas with her sisters-back in her day shelling peas was considered feminine work. The males grew them. The females picked and shelled them. Occasionally the males would stoop to pick if worse came to worst.
Pea-shelling mornings were fun, but by lunch time, the fun had worn off. Daddy came home for lunch which included fresh peas, and as soon as he went back to work, Mama sent us back to the porch. Not even dishwashing was allowed to interfere with the pea shelling.
“You can wash the dishes when the peas are shelled,” Mama told me.
By then my fingers were sore and even dishwashing appealed to my sore hands. Nonetheless, many peas waited on their newspapers. The children had long since deserted the chore for naps or play. Now Sarah Nell, Mama, and I had to finish the peas.
At 4:30 the mothers of the children started arriving to pick them up. When Mama asked Margaret, the first mother, if she wanted a mess of peas, I thought my mother had finally taken leave of her senses. We’d worked awfully hard picking all those peas out in the hot sun, gnats, and mosquitoes. Now Mama was giving them away. However, as she filled a brown grocery bag with peas, I realized that every pea she gave away was a pea I didn’t have to shell.
“Mama, are you sure that’s enough?” I asked her.
If we still had peas left when Daddy came in, he’d get a pan and help. He was about the slowest pea-sheller I’ve ever known, but we appreciated his willingness.
“It’d take me all day to shell enough for me to eat,” he’d laugh, as he plopped one pea at a time into his dishpan.
“You know, Larry,” I said, “I don’t know why I used to think shelling peas was such a terrible chore. I have such fond memories of those days now. It’s not so bad, is it?”
“Hmmph,” he replied, as the shadows deepened under the old oaks. “I’m not so sure about that. But I’ve already had some meat to go with my peas. I know I’ve swallowed at least half-a-dozen gnats.”
I sure have fond memories of shelling peas with my Mother and Grandmother as well. I'd love to sit on the porch or in the house while the "stories" were on shelling peas! Life's simple pleasures are so much more enjoyable with age.