Pickin’ Butterbeans

Aunt Gussie always had a garden.  

As a child, I did not appreciate the value of that garden nor of the hours she spent in the boiling hot south-Georgia sun to keep it “going.” Yet, she planted an abundance of everything-tomatoes, butterbeans, squash, cucumbers, silver queen corn, snap beans, okra, watermelons, and any other vegetable that might catch her eye.  

Gussie Jean Carter Mitchell Miller kept her garden well-tended and plentiful.  She loved sharing the bounty of her efforts with her family, friends, neighbors, and her neighbor’s relatives along with their friends.  Filling bushel baskets of produce to overflowing, she’d grab a few extras, throw them on top saying, “Here. Take a few more.” 

Giving was what she did best.

With our large family, it was a given we were on the receiving end of her generosity and love.  My parents expected us to do our part in the harvesting and canning. So, we did. 

Tell me any kid who wouldn’t want to spend their Saturdays picking butterbeans on a row ½ mile long?  I know four. We complained. We argued. We bellyached. We did not want to spend our Saturdays in Aunt Gussie’s 5-acre garden.   

My mother’s philosophy was quite simple. 

“It doesn’t matter whether you want to go or not. Your wants won’t hurt you. Those tomatoes are going bad, if we don’t get them off the vine.”

 End of discussion.    

As soon as it was daylight, we loaded up in our ’57 Chevy and drove the 20 miles to Aunt Gussie’s for the day and half the night. Once we received our pickin’ instructions, Aunt Gussie would return to the house to start cooking.  Never mind that it was only 7:30 in the morning and she had just cooked an outlandish breakfast for us an hour ago.

Around 10:00 a.m. she returned to the field to check our progress. 

The heat was rising and so were our tempers.  We were sick of this. It was hotter than blue blazes out there. Why were we the only ones picking peas in the dust and dirt?  

I was at the far end of the mile long butterbean row when I saw Aunt Gussie headed my way.  

“What now?”, I thought.  

I watched as she scrutinized every blessed bush along the way. Occasionally she would stoop over to get a closer view. With each passing step she made, my annoyance grew exponentially. 

Might as well get this over with, so I headed her way.  I knew what she was going to say by the way she was looking at those gosh awful butterbean bushes. 

“When you get to the end of row, I want you to come back down on the other side and re-pick this row.  Let’s get all these butterbeans, so y’all will have a good mess,” she said. 

Inwardly, I screamed. “Nooooooo!” 

Over half the butterbeans I had in my bucket were so small you could hardly find a bean inside the shell. This butterbean horror would never end. 

How many butterbeans does it take to make a mess? I wondered, but kept my thoughts to myself and instead said, “Yes ma’am.” 

At the end of that two-mile butterbean row, sweat was trickling down my back.  The salty dampness found its way into my eyes. My irritation was so great, I could hardly speak. 

Finally, my spirits lifted as I approached the end of that three-mile row of butterbeans.  

We lugged our buckets to the truck four-miles away and helped Daddy hoist them onto the back of Uncle Roy’s truck.  

Headed home.  Finally. 

Nope.  Aunt Gussie had dinner ready.  Another feast.  

Fried chicken, ham, fresh peas with ham hocks, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, rice, stewed tomatoes, Silver Queen creamed corn, biscuits, pound cake, and sugar free sponge cake for Uncle Roy. (He was a diabetic.)  And, of course, a huge bowl of fresh butterbeans! 

Reluctantly, I ate my fair share of those butterbeans knowing the leftovers would re-appear on our table for Sunday dinner! 

As Aunt Gussie handed me that bowl of butterbeans to place in our take-home box, only one thought was running through my mind. As the old saying goes, “Spill the beans.” 

My life was richly blessed because I had an Aunt Gussie, who left me with a wealth of fond memories and a low tolerance for butterbeans.  

Happy Shelling.