Picking up pecans

All through the night, the late November winds howled through the limbs of the huge pecan trees, violently ripping brown nuts from the branches and slamming them to the ground. Rains spattered and speckled the nuts with grit. I lay listening in my bed, a bit frightened as the winds shrieked just outside like some monster threatening to gobble up the house with my family and me inside. Soon though the fear melted into soundless sleep, and I heard nothing else until the smells of morning awoke me. Grabbing my clothes, I dashed for the warmth of the living room fireplace to dress. The blazing fire chased away the cold chill until I could slip into my warm clothes. I saw the rumpled Savannah Morning News lying on Daddy’s chair and knew he had already gone to work on this Saturday morning. He never turned down overtime, certainly not with Christmas coming and Santa depending on him. Thankful for weekends, I searched for the funnies, and settled in his chair to read.

Just as I found Dagwood, Mama called from the kitchen.

“Come eat your breakfast, Mary Ann, before it gets cold. We have to pick up pecans. The ground is covered with them.”

“But, Mama,” I wailed. “It’s raining and cold.”

“The rain is stopping already, and you have a jacket. Now get ready. I’ll give you some Christmas money when I sell them.”

The promise of money motivated me. I wolfed down my sausages and eggs and had a big flakey buttermilk biscuit with honey. Then I slipped my arms into my pink corduroy jacket and ran out the door. Mama was already on her hands and knees on the damp ground, picking up pecans and throwing them into a two-gallon bucket, already nearly full.

“Go dump this bucket in the croaker sack on the back porch before you get started,” Mama said. “It’s about half full already.”

Soon I too was on my knees working, and the pecans seemed to magically fill the buckets. Frequently, I’d stop to empty them, so we could start again. While I dreaded in advance the actual job of gathering the pecans (pronounced pee-cans with the stress on the first syllable in my childhood), once we started, I got lost in the conversation and my hands worked automatically. As we picked up the pecans that would provide our Christmas money, Mama told of Christmases when she and her nine siblings got an orange a piece and maybe some hard candy. She told stories of Fred, the mule, throwing Uncle Jack off his back directly into Fred’s patties and Grandpa’s brother Hiram making moonshine to support his family. By the time Mama took a break to go fix dinner (noonday meal when I was growing up), two sacks sat bulging with nuts on the back porch. I kept working while she cooked. I didn’t even ask to stop; I no longer wanted to.

In a pen behind me strutted the turkey that would grace our Christmas dinner table, and over to the right of that pen, mustard and turnip greens grew in abundance. The hens and turkeys not only fed us but did their share in making the greens grow. In the front yard stood a huge paper-shell pecan tree that provided the nuts for our pecan pies. Those pecans were not for sale. On long winter nights we shelled them and froze them for pies and cooking for the coming year. On the back porch waited two huge pumpkins from Grandpa’s farm. Christmas was coming.

With Mama in the house cooking, I let my imagination entertain me. Visions of gingerbread men and fruit cake filled my head. As loud as possible, I sang “Good King Wenceslas” and “Jingle Bells” to the turkeys and chickens. I imagined our perfectly shaped tree twinkling with colored lights big as robin eggs and strands of silver tinsel. Underneath were mounds of presents wrapped in bright paper, and most of them had my name on them. Surely one of them would be that baby doll I wanted, and the rest could be the new books from my wish list. Then I imagined my family opening my presents to them, the ones I would buy with my pecan money. How pleased they’d be that I had found them perfect gifts. The morning flew by and before I realized it, Daddy was home and Mama was calling me to dinner. As I ran up the back steps, I carefully dumped the bucket I had just filled and set it by the back door in anticipation of the long afternoon stretching before me . . . a golden opportunity indeed to pick up more pecans. I could hardly wait.