Sunday, July 12, 2009

Snap, snap

The next-to-last post was officially my 200th on this blog. I missed the momentous occasion, was probably job-searching somewhere and didn't notice the normally note-worthy anniversary. Hence this post, a real, live "melmoir" about—of course—summer.

Summer at my childhood home involved so much wonder and delight. Even picking ticks off each other after a cross-country trek counted as an exciting activity. (The fat, blood-filled ones were the most horrifying and fascinating.) The season seemed to last forever, especially when I was in grade school. One of my fondest memories is napping on my Ma-Ma's old cot, a fold-up metal style with a faded green plaid pattern. I can recall several occasions when I lay upon the cool mesh material, looked up at the dappled sunlight streaming through the tall maple trees, watched the patterns change as a breeze shifted the branches... and woke an hour or so later, befuddled and sporting an odd little pattern on my cheek from the surface of the makeshift bed.

I hoed my big toe once, helping in the garden. That was fun. I had my own little hoe, smaller than all the rest, and I wanted to contribute to the family gardening effort, so I began hacking at the weeds between rows just like my parents and sisters were doing... and then ouch. There was blood, which immediately necessitated a generous application of merthiolate. Does anyone else recall that awful stuff? My father received it for free from his employer, and it was the healing agent of choice at our home. Have a cut or a scrape? Break out the merthiolate! It stained your skin fluorescent orange, and it hurt so much your eyeballs popped a bit. Ours came in tiny double-walled capsules with a cotton swab on one end; you'd break the inner tube, thus releasing the stinging orange compound onto the cotton, where it leaked through to painfully penetrate your injury.

Alas, I digress. I was supposed to be remembering pleasantries. The one that stays with me most clearly is snapping beans. Sure, we shucked corn and threw the husks over the fence for the ponies, and that was fun. And we picked zukes and cukes and tomatoes; even as a child, I loved throwing back a few sun-warmed cherry tomatoes fresh from the vine. But the green beans were an event. We'd descend to the garden, buckets in tow, and pick the beans until we couldn't carry more. Then, up to the patio we'd go.

The patio at our home was, at that time, uncovered; it faced the back yard (and still does), a partly shaded haven looking up at a verdant, tree-covered hillside. We'd sit on metal lawn chairs, big empty pots within tossing distance, and we'd pick the green beans out of our buckets and snap them in preparation for cooking. Snapping beans takes a bit of practice: you have to learn to snap off only the pointy ends, no more, and then break the remaining length of bean into bite-sizes pieces. The trickiest part is keeping the pots straight—one is for finished bean pieces, the other for the discards. My mom was the pro; I watched her sure fingers fly through bean after bean while I struggled with my first. Practice made me better, but I could never touch her for speed and accuracy—she worked quickly and capably, and her bean portions were measured and always went where they should. My older sisters were faster than I was, too. Eventually I caught up, but truth be told, only in the past couple of years have I even come close.

When I snap green beans nowadays, the experience transports me. I am suddenly a child again, with that dappled sun streaming down, the ponies watching curiously from behind shaggy manes, various cats and dogs hanging around us, the fresh green aroma, the bean juice on my fingertips. I'm watching my mom's and sisters' buckets, and trying to keep up; cars are passing out of sight with a whooshing sound, and birds are singing. I snap, and I remember. And when the snapping is done, I'll cook the beans in a big red pot, the very same red pot in fact, with a hunk of pork for salty flavor.

There are some things that a recession just can't take away. I pray you will be similarly transported soon.


chris h. said...

Oh, so nice. I can picture it right with you, though I've not mastered the bean-snapping thing at all -- not nearly enough practice.

Mercifully, the ointment of choice in our house was mecurochrome -- same orangey-red stain as merthiolate but without the sting. I remember once getting merthiolate at a friend's house, unaware that it wasn't what I was used to: OUCH! WHAT'S UP WITH THAT?

Mel said...

it is a nice memory, for certain. well, not the orange "cure all" but the beans. and the napping. ah, childhood summers--does anything ever compare?