Being born and raised in the deep south, my summers were made up of pick’n beans and tomatoes, squash and okra all day. Then help’n my momma and my aunts “put up” hundreds of cans of veggie soup. Canning was an all day family affair and since it was the ripened vegetables who decided when this event would happen, it would invariably occur on a day I had planned to sleep late or go to the movies with friends. So we put on old shoes and headed out to the garden with our baskets. Man it was hot! So we picked, then we sat outside and broke beans and shucked corn with my NaNa and Mamaw doing quality control. (I wasn’t nearly as particular about those stringy things on the corn as they were and since I was horrified when I found a worm in the corn, I rushed through the corn shucking process)
When it was time for the actual canning process to begin, it was a mommas only event and all of the kids had to play outside. Somehow being outside didn’t seem nearly as hot when we were playing as it did when we were in the garden. My family were church going folks who went to church three times a week at a minimum, so we didn’t play “house” very often. We mostly played “church”! We would select a preacher and a choir director and a pianist and an organist. Everyone else would be the congregation full of sinners. My cousin Jimmy and I often had terrible arguments over who would be the preacher and I think we ended up taking turns. I thought I was much better suited for that part, but ultimately he became a minister in real life when we were grown, so I shoulda listened to him I suppose.
In the evening, when the men folk returned home from work and my Aunt NaNa’s kitchen and dining room table was full of mason jars, lids popping to signify they were sealed tight, we would have supper consisting of fresh green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, cole slaw, pickled beets and other wonderfully delicious items from the garden along with very sweet ice tea. Mommas and kids would wash dishes, then the whole family would gather outside under this really huge Oak tree for a little pick’n and sing’n old gospel tunes. Us kids would have cool sticky watermelon juice drip’n down our arms. We could hardly wait for the ball of fire to move behind the mountains. That sun did move slow to those of us who held our mason jars in our hands…waiting…and waiting for that, slow as molasses sun to set so we could chase lightn’n bugs. We ran through the dew dampened grass in our bare feet and captured our treasures while melodies of “I’ll Fly Away” danced through the summer air. When we had captured a jarful of those magical winged creatures, we would compare who had the most and show them to our mommas who would tell us we should let them go before they died. We apparently never poked enough holes in the mason jar lids for our light fairies to be able to breathe and inevitably some didn’t escape death.
It’s funny how getting older changes our perception. I thought I hated those family days out in the hot southern sun, picking beans and tomatoes and okra and such, however, I look back on those days as some of my sweetest childhood memories.