Organization for any holiday event started in the prior summer hunched over fruits and vegetables preparing them for preservation. Over the years, my Grandma not only gave me an education about cooking but she also snuck in little life lessons to take with me on my journey through this world. Some of our conversations would end in her ever present, “And this too shall pass, my dear” or even sometimes, if she needed to scold me, she would say, “God gave you two ears and one mouth, hush up and listen child.”
My Grandma may have only gotten through the eighth grade, but she had been through the school of hard knocks. To say my Grandma had opinions would be putting it mildly. She would interject ethical proverbs in an attempt to keep her grandchildren on the right path. She would say, “all you have is your name and reputation; if either of those are tarnished, they are tarnished forever.” However, the catch 22 for that argument is gossipy teenage girls.
One of the most important conversations I had with my Grandma was in her living room over a bushel of field peas. Every summer, you could bet that an old bed sheet would lay in the middle of her living room floor with a pile of peas still snuggled in their pods on top. All the women in my family would pull up chairs campfire style around the mounded pile with stainless steel bowls in lap. The sounds of the older women’s ringed fingers rasping against the sides of the bowls were only cadenced with muted attentiveness of serious discussions mixed with the loud cackles of uproarious laughter at someone’s joke. There was an air of camaraderie and safety when the women got together.
On this occasion, my Grandma wanted to know “Why are you so quiet today Baby?” I was a teenager and I can still remember being so hurt when I found out that a group of girls at school had started spreading malicious rumors about me. To add insult to injury, these were people that I trusted as friends. I didn’t know how to deal with it, should I turn the other cheek, should I stand up for myself in the face of a tarnished name. My Grandma’s advice, “When people talk behind your back, remember they took time out of their lives to think about you. Be happy in that, but next time you pick your friends, know that those who gossip to you, will gossip about you.”
After that, I started my journey and started to not care if judgmental people wanted to say nasty things about me. I also learned that I should never measure my life with someone else’s yardstick because true happiness comes from being thankful for what your life holds right now. Admittedly, these would be lessons that I would have to revisit again and again, but at least the building blocks had been laid. At the end of the day, the second nature repetitive motion of shelling the peas left our fingertips sore, but seeing the pile disappear while “solving” the world’s problems made each of us feel a sense of accomplishment.
Soul Food Peas
3-4 cups fresh blanched peas, any variety
1 ham hock*
1 tsp salt
In a medium stock pot cover peas with enough water that they can move around, about an inch of water above the surface of peas. Throw in ham hock and salt. Simmer for 45 minutes-1 hour. Do not stir too much or peas will fall apart and bind together. Peas will be very tender.
*If you don’t have ham hock on hand, 3 strips of bacon will work, just back off the salt. I would only put about ¼ tsp of salt in with bacon. REMEMBER: you can always add salt but you can’t take it away.