Off the Menu
Editor’s note: “Off the Menu” is a new series dedicated to spin-off and companion stories to Life & Thyme Issue Two. Today’s story comes from Jeff Ross, Garden Manager at Blackberry Farm in Knoxville, Tennessee. Be sure to read our print-only feature on Blackberry Farm in Life & Thyme Issue Two. — Order Issue Two
These sultry, shimmering days of Summer bring to mind a vivid memory of my growing up. My neighbors, the Neals, kept a rather large vegetable garden on property at the edge of town. Early on summer mornings, as we rubbed sleep-sand from our eyes, their grandson, Nate, and I would find ourselves conscripted and standing amongst chest-high rows of old-time pole beans, hanging three and four to the tag. With cut-open Weigel’s Dairy milk jugs strapped to our waspy waists, we would lean in and attempt to fill our burdensome vessels. “Pinch the beans off, don’t pull ‘em,” Mr. Neal would admonish. “Take care of them vines!” Our shadows shrank as the sun magnified overhead. To pass time, we repeated over and over our mantra: “Fifty cents a jug, fifty cents a jug.” The rows stretched on to the quivering horizon.
Later, we sat on the ancient wooden swing in the shade of the Neal’s cinderblock side porch; out of the sun, but still fairly swimming in the ponderous, humid air. We removed each bean’s strings then snapped them into lengths suitable for canning. As we creakily swung, the rusty swing chain would wind up, then with a loud “pop”, the chain would un-catch and send the swing swaying a bit sideways. There we would work and rock, “snap, snap, creak, creak…POP!”, while the cicadas began their afternoon whir.
The old, chipped mixing bowls began to fill with broken Kentucky Wonder, Case Knife, Cherokee wax and Greasyback beans, and Nate and I schemed over the investments we’d make with our proceeds. As predictable preteens, we would ask my mother to drop us off at the movie theater each week. There was never a discussion, however, of what we’d see – it was a monster movie or none at all. We swung, strung, and snapped as we argued criticism of last week’s slasher, while anticipating the horrors of the next.
But that day, only the aging sun splattered red across the sky as it set. A dust-caked box fan rattled in the corner of the porch, useless at cooling us, and serving only to waft from the kitchen the beckoning aromas of Mrs. Neal’s fried corn and salmon patties. We snapped faster.