Blue Ridge Country - November/December 2017 - 7
FROM THE EDITOR
Stringing the Beans:
A Practice Lost?
How to honor your grandmother by
confessing to your carelessness.
by Kurt Rheinheimer
Last issue, our fine columnist Molly Dugger
Brennan lent her wonderful storytelling talents to talking about the
days before air conditioning-days
when grandmothers spent far too
many of their waking hours "putting up" food for the coming winter.
The column was, as usual, illustrated
by Joseph Mackareth, the talented guy who's been providing such for Molly's columns since just after she
started with us, in January, 2015.
Joseph generally sends us three preliminary sketches to consider for each column, and Molly and I are
usually in agreement on which we like. Joseph's fanciful spirit leads him to send, usually, one that's pretty
literal to a piece of the column, one that's a little playful, and one that leans toward the fantastic.
For September/October, Joseph focused his illustration topic on the part of the column that goes like this:
I was a clumsy child, so I was forbidden to enter the
kitchen while boiling water, glass jars and pressure cookers
were stacked everywhere. I got porch duty. A gigantic mixing
bowl was put in my lap, and a bushel of string beans would
be set down next to me. My instructions were: "Start stringing, and holler when you're done."
I'd be out there alone, stringing beans out of what
seemed to be a magical basket that kept refilling itself. Sisyphus string beans, I tell you. No matter how much I tried
to focus, I didn't make much of a dent in the mountain of
beans. That's OK. Eventually, Grandma would get too hot
in the tiny kitchen and take a break with me on the porch
while my mother would continue the production line inside.
Grandma would start stringing beans with me, and I'd
find myself trying to match her pace, and lo and behold, the
tide turned on the beans.
Two of those sketches, as well as the final, depicted,
according to Joseph's notes, "stringing of the beans."
And it was not until alert reader Anna Hale of
Floyd, Virginia pointed it out to us that either Molly
or I caught what Joe had done: beans being literally
strung, like popcorn on a string. (Turns out, Joseph
confesses with a laugh, that-ah, youth-he Googled
stringing of beans and came up empty of the largely
last-century practice, and so he went with string.)
I have memories as sharp as Molly's of being in
the backyard at my maternal grandparents' house
in Radford, Virginia, helping my mother and grandmother string the green beans that had been picked
out of the garden up on the hill, and now nearly
filled a paper grocery bag. And of their gentle admonishing not to break the tip off quite so far down,
because I was wasting a bit of the bean as I chucked
the string into the little bowl there next to the big
one where the strung beans went.
And when I told fellow veteran bean stringer Molly
about Anna's good-natured catch ("Chuckle, chuckle,"
she closed her note), she put her tongue in her cheek
where it often is and said this: "Let's just tell that reader it was a visual pun and glad she enjoyed it."
I suspect if either Molly's or my grandmother were
still around, she'd tell us both, with no hesitation, to
"'fess up right now, young man and young lady!"
November/December 2017 7