Making The Best Of It

Life is a series of strange non-chaotic attractors shaped by irrationality. If we only had the math. If you’re hooked into popular culture and mass media, life tends to lean more toward Shakespeare’s description of a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury.

I prefer my mother’s observation that life is what you make of it; an idea which has declined in popularity during a time when everyone is a victim of something. Nevertheless it remains the idea which inspires me the most.

Today I am motivated to make the best of the gift from God of another day, and that day is inspired by the image of my grandfather at 90, standing in his garden, leaning on one hoe as a walking stick while chopping weeds with a second. My grandmother is picking beans. She’s wearing a bonnet she’s had for many years to shade her from the sun. You only see such attire in museums now.

The bean is a very special bean. We still grow it, and it has been in the family for generations. It came into Towns county in the early 1840’s with a group of families who moved here from Buncombe County, North Carolina to escape the smoke of their neighbors’ chimneys – and the liquor tax.

Everyone was a seed saver back in the day. Stores were few and far between, and if they did happen to have the seeds you wanted, the dollars to pay for them were scarce and usually needed for something else more urgent.

Saving seed was just something you did without a second thought, but that first thought was full of consideration. The science of genetics was decades away, but a wisdom born of keen observation and animal husbandry told the early farmers to save the seed from their healthiest plants.

As a result, our full runner bean is a vigorous cultivar. Much like the people of the Appalachians, it has survived many hardships to become strong. The vines will run 20 feet in a good year. It is resistant to blight and drought, (and raccoons if you plant squash between the rows). When a storm beats it to the ground it will pick up and grow again, just like a hillbilly.

My grandfather would be amused by the industrial bean seen in the grocery store. He was particular about the timing of the harvest, and collected his crop during that narrow window between the time when seeds are forming in the pod and the mature bean begins to yellow. He said you would go hungry eating the empty and flaccid pods that are the choice of tv cooks, but “wait until there’s a bean in those pods and a man can work on that.”

It’s hot job gardening today, and they’re complaining about the heat and humidity on the tv weather again . It’s nice of them to let us know beforehand how miserable we should be. My beans are happy, however. This hot, steamy weather and all that extra CO2 in the air are making them cover the trellises in a thick, green blanket of beany goodness. The tomatoes are thrilled with this weather too, and just about everything else that grows in the garden.

I guess the weather is pretty miserable for folks dependent on air conditioning , and we should all pause from time to time in remembrance of Mr. Carrier’s great invention. I asked an elderly gentleman who ran a store in Valdosta what folks did on really hot days before air conditioning, and he simply said, “We closed.” He went on to say that the definition of “hot” has changed a lot since he was a boy.

Back in the garden, blooms are starting to form on our beans, and they’re already attracting the bumblebees. Honeybees get all the attention, but it’s the humble bumble that makes our gardens. I’m leaning on a modern imported hoe having a drink of water and thinking about putting my feet in the cold creek. I still have one of Pa’s hoes. It retired long ago and stands in a corner in remembrance. I’m a long way from needing it as a walking stick, but when that time comes, I hope it reminds me of how he made the best of the day in spite of age and arthritis and well meaning advice.

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