Probably one of the greatest tragedies of our day is the fact that farmers and their families no longer walk beans.
Oh, how I used to long to be my cousin from New York who never had to perform such menial labor. While visiting us once when we were growing up, she even dared to ask us what bean walking was. My sister and I looked at each other with utter surprise.
We showed her, and she nearly fainted.
I recently went out to read the gas meter and crossed through part of a bean field to get there. It brought back memories that I now cherish, but at the time, came disguised in sweat, corn knives, wet beans, sweat bees and coveted water jugs at the end of the row to mark where we’d been.
Everyone drank from the same jug-and it never mattered then.
It was a job that we did mostly with Dad, who kept an eye not only on his rows but the rows of seven children who weren’t as jazzed about the job as he was.
He wanted weeds pulled most often, which was fine until you came to a big sunflower with those prickly stems.
To this day I will never understand a sunflower motif in a farm kitchen. My hands hated those things-along with sticky milk weeds and those obnoxious-smelling button weeds.
I’m sure the button weed’s smell could replace mace in keeping politicians away.
How I despised being out in the bean field at 7 a.m., with the wet bean leaves that made my pant legs, shoes and socks wet first thing, and the damp soil that made wedge shoes out of any pair of tennis shoes we wore.
It’s how my sisters and I learned how to walk in high heels.
Dad would sometimes remind us of the job we were there for when things got chatty. We would hear, “… a little less talkin’ and a little more walkin.’ “
He also carried a hoe so he could reach over the rows to get what everyone else was missing. Now and then he’d tap you on the head with his hoe handle and use it to show you that you missed one “back there.”
We hired out and got plenty of experience, once walking a field that had so much corn in it that we all took one row and used corn knives. Dad finally got us out of that job-there was just so much corn.
There was the time a farmer lost his prized pliers in the bean field and offered a reward to the one who found them. Of course my brother found the pliers – but the tool was in my rows.
There was the time we had walked beans for a neighbor on a very hot and humid afternoon. We took a needed break and my brothers climbed into a nearby tree for some shade and rest, and you might know that the farmer and his wife showed up at that same time with lunch for us. It looked bad, but they understood.
Looking back, they were some of the best times we had growing up together.
We were each others’ captive audience – sentenced to four rows each, next to each other, half a mile at a time before turning around to walk four more rows each to the other end of the field, and all across the width of the field.
Every morning. Most afternoons. Sometimes in the evenings if it was cool and there was a lot to do.
We learned about each other – our hopes and dreams, the things that were going on, exchanging jokes, telling stories, wondering together, running to the end rows when it began to rain, dirt clod fights and corn butt fights – even some arguing and name calling among siblings.
They truly were the best of times and the worst of times, but now I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. But sad as it is that farm families don’t do that anymore, I’m also glad.
I’m not that grateful for the memories.
Schwaller is a Farm News correspondent from Milford. Reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and at www.karenschwaller.com.
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