On the front porch, shelling peas, learning life

Special to The Sumter Item
Posted 10/19/18

They were sitting on the front screened-in porch, shelling peas. You could buy peas in a can, but the old woman said they were nasty. Besides, why buy something you could grow yourself?

They had picked the peas early that morning while the cool …

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On the front porch, shelling peas, learning life


They were sitting on the front screened-in porch, shelling peas. You could buy peas in a can, but the old woman said they were nasty. Besides, why buy something you could grow yourself?

They had picked the peas early that morning while the cool was still in the air. Now, in the heat of the afternoon - with the ceiling fan blowing down a store-bought breeze - the old man, the old woman, the granddaughter and the grandson were shelling peas.

The grandson was a complainer; most 6-year-old boys are. He said to the old man, "Grandpa, it's too hot to do this. Can't we wait till later? Can't we do it inside?"

Like most old men, he paused before he answered. Thirty years ago, when the young boy would have been his own son, he would have snapped an answer: "Stop complaining son, and get on with the peas if you want any supper." Decades had taught him a slow answer might be better.

"Now son, if we shelled these peas inside, we would mess up the house your grandma has worked hard to vacuum and clean this morning. We'd probably have the TV on and wouldn't even talk to each other. Besides, I remember sitting on the front porch when we didn't have a ceiling fan. I'm grateful for some shade and for a breeze blowing down my neck. Feel that little wind blow up? Look out yonder; there's a cloud coming up. I'll bet we'll get a storm here in a few minutes that will cool things down. Learn to be grateful, son."

The 6-year-old was still hot, but he marveled that his grandpa always seemed to think about more than the moment. He loved his grandfather's soft, low voice. He loved the peace he felt when his grandfather helped him understand the world.

The old woman spoke to her granddaughter, "Sister, you're leaving too many snaps. Run your thumbnail down the seam like this, and open up the whole pod. That's the way. Only snap the small ones. We want to get as many peas as we can."

The granddaughter marveled at her grandmother's gnarled, arthritic hands, how they could still split the seams, then push the peas out with one smooth motion. She asked, "Grandma, don't your hands hurt? Wouldn't it be easier just to buy these in the store?"

"Of course, child," said the old woman, "but I like the taste of fresh peas. If you want something that tastes really good, it's going to take a little more time, a little more effort, and it may even hurt a little bit. But it's worth it."

"Don't we have enough for supper yet?" said the grandson.

"Yes," said the old man, "but we picked this mess so we could put some up in the freezer. No sense in letting them go to waste. Besides, in those cold winter months, it's good to reach into the freezer and get something that reminds you of summer. Helps you stand the cold if you remember winter always turns to spring."

"Grandpa," said the grandson, "how much is a mess?"

"Well son, a mess is enough to shell in one sitting, if you're talking about peas. If you're talking about fish, a mess is enough to clean at one time and have a fish fry," said the old man.

Puzzled, the grandson asked, "Will they teach me how much is a mess in school?"

"I doubt it, son," said the old man. "You learn to measure a mess when you pick too many peas or catch too many fish."

The old woman laughed. "Your grandpa has never had to worry about catching too many fish! Many's the time he promised me a mess of fish for supper, and he came back with just the worms he took," she said.

The old man smiled back and said, "Yep, that's when I was grateful for canned Spam! It's not too bad fried up for supper."

Now it was the granddaughter's turn to be puzzled: "Grandma, what is Spam?"

"Lawd, child, I hope you never have to find out!" laughed the old woman.

Big rain drops started to echo on the tin roof of the porch. "Mercy, that storm blew up in a hurry. Look here, we've finished shelling all these peas. Leave the hulls in that basket, and let's go inside and start getting ready for supper," said the old woman.

Thirty years later, the grandson and the granddaughter really couldn't remember that particular day. What they could remember was the feeling: Their grandparents had lived enough life to see things different, to trust. They remembered feeling comforted by their grandparents' gentle wisdom.

Isn't this why God allows us to grow old? He wants us to pass on the wisdom we've learned to those eager to learn it. Living a long time is not the goal; living a long time, growing wise, and sharing what you've learned - that's what God wants you to do.

Is there someone you need to sit on the front porch with and pass along a few things God has taught you?

Is there someone you need to go sit with and learn a few things about life?

Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.