Mid-summer brings farmers’ markets, and I can’t visit one without looking for the freshest green beans I can find. Not just because I love fresh green beans, but because of the memory of close family ties they always invoke.
A memory I have of my grandmother feels as if it happened only yesterday. She is sitting on our screened-in back porch with a big silver bowl in her lap and a big brown bag of what we call “string beans” in Tennessee on the table beside her. I am 12, and as I watch her snap, snap, snap I’m lulled by the rhythm of her pace and mesmerized by the sight of her gnarled 90-year-old fingers as she works. The method she used until it was second nature, and which is now second nature to me, involves snapping off each end, peeling down the string, flipping the bean around and giving two quick snaps between your thumb and forefinger. Snap…snap…zip, snap, snap. That’s the string bean symphony.
I remember wondering if the bowl fit perfectly in her lap because it was made to do so, or if her lap had just molded to the shape of the bowl over the years.
On those hot summer afternoons I had my best talks with Granny as I watched her snap. I would occasionally ask a question, knowing it could be quite a few more snaps before I got an answer. My questions were both trivial and monumental, but her answers always seemed profound and comforting.
My grandmother died two days after suffering a stroke on her 90th birthday. Through the years, each time I sit down with a bag of beans to snap I feel tremendously comforted and reassured that everything will be okay. It gives me a feeling of connection that transcends time and location. When my first granddaughter was two and visiting with us, I encouraged her to snap string beans with me. After snapping off each end, I handed the bean to her and told her to break it into little pieces, never dreaming she’d be able to do so without help. Her chubby little hands tightened down on the bean and she twisted it until it snapped. “Ouch!” she said, as if the snapping noise indicated the bean had been hurt. I handed her another bean. “Ouch…ouch,” she exclaimed as she gave it two perfect snaps.
The tears in my eyes as I watched her caught me by surprise. Now a new generation was snapping beans. Ninety-year-old, gnarled fingers…two-year-old, pink, chubby ones…we were all connected. The strings that hold us together can be as simple, and strong, and purposeful as those on the beans. With a lot of “ouch” when they break.
In his book Growing Wise in Family Life, Chuck Swindoll writes, “I know of no realm of life that can provide more companionship in a lonely world or greater feelings of security and purpose in chaotic times than the close ties of a family.” In Psalm 68:6 (NIV) we read, “God sets the lonely in families.” In the day in which we live families are greater gifts than ever. Encourage those you love to remember their family ties and draw strength from them.
If this sounds familiar that’s because it is excerpted in part from my first Back Porch Break newspaper column in 1995! Hope it still brings a smile or a tear–the good kind!