Eastern North Carolina summers are hot. I was born in the summer of 1995 and for every summer after that, I remember my Grandpa Clay gardening. He and Nana Jeanette live right beside my family on land we have lived on and farmed since 1945 in Caldwell County, North Carolina. The vegetable garden is behind an old red barn and a field once used for my grandpa’s horses. My grandparents have gardened since they moved onto this land.
Every year during the third week of June, my Nana, my mom, and my grandpa get up before the sun rises and go out to my grandparent’s garden to start a long day of picking and canning crisp Half Runner green beans. Picking beans is a long and tiresome process, and the sweltering heat only adds to it. Around eight in the morning, my three brothers wake and our job begins. My Nana, mom, three brothers, dad, and I sit in a circle on the porch of a tiny log cabin my grandpa built between our houses and we begin the bean-stringing and breaking process. A light morning breeze and country music accompanies our work and time flies as we laugh and share stories about our summer plans. These sessions form some of my favorite memories.
Although my grandparents live within 500 feet of me, as they age, I feel as if this distance gets further with each passing day.
Although my grandparents live within 500 feet of me, as they age, I feel as if this distance gets further with each passing day. I cherish each second I have with them because I know there will be a day when I will not be able to simply walk up the hill from my house to talk to my Nana or get advice from my Grandpa. So when we string beans, and when we talk, I am not bothered by how frustrating some of the beans are or how hot it may be, because I know I cannot afford to take those precious few hours for granted.
My mom and my Nana can the beans after we string and break them. It is a monotonous and arduous process. Nearly one hundred mason jars partially filled with water and salt line my Nana’s kitchen as she and my mom wash all the prepared beans. Then they fill the glass jars to the brim and seal each golden cap tightly. Each individual bean is treated with extreme care.
They taste like summer: light, airy, and rich as the southern soil that once provided them with shelter and warmth.
We usually yield 50 to 60 quarts of canned beans each summer, but we once canned 80 quarts. There is no way my family can possibly eat them all, so my grandparents give friends and neighbors in the community jars of beans. The beans are served regularly with meals throughout the year. They taste like summer: light, airy, and rich as the southern soil that once provided them with shelter and warmth. Although they are fresh and delicious out of the jar, my family sometimes uses a special seasoning made by my Nana’s friend to enhance the flavor of the beans.
Each time my Nana gets a can down and opens it up to cook, my mind jumps back to the third week in June. I can feel the smooth exterior of the beans in my hand. I can hear the rush of the water over the beans as we clean them, and I remember the stories shared from the front porch of the log cabin. Because I see it every day, the jar that sits in my parent’s house is most special. That jar holds the fruit of my labor, and memories far greater than the work put into picking, stringing, breaking, and canning beans.