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!
I have some very similar memories of my grandmother! As string bean season arrives in Kentucky, it makes me smile to recall my own snap, snap, zip, snap, snap experiences!
Amazing how quickly those old memories come back, isn’t it, Pat? Thanks for commenting.
Terry Whalin says
Thank you for the thought and visuals in this article. I too have strong memories of snapping green beans with my grandmother. I loved revisiting those memories today.
Good to know, Terry. Just something about grandmas and green beans I guess!
Elizabeth Van Liere says
Brought back precious memories of doing the same with my Mother.
I’m so glad, Betty. Enjoy the farmers’ markets in your beautiful part of Colorado!
Rolle Walker says
Hi, Nancy, your nostalgic column conjured my own memories of shelling peas with Grandmama Jean. She called black-eyed peas “purple hulls.” I had not heard the Psalm 68: 6 before, so I looked it up,. The same verse ends with ” but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.” I didn’t wanna hear that. Your metaphor of string beans likened unto our own lives spoke me, “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.” You give us a good word. The Lord’s steadfast mercy endures forever.
Please hug Jim for me,
Yes, Rolle! I’m afraid writers are sometimes guilty of using only the parts of a verse they like! Glad it brought a pleasant memory.
Jan Keller says
Connections … we must create and guard them in all sorts of creative ways. Just like I recently shared with you how I planned to my grandchildren to my ‘happy’ music the the high tech touchy/feely gizmo better known as a thumb drive. Great column, Nancy!
Yes, Jan! Wonderful way to connect for sure.
Sues Hess says
“My questions were both trivial and monumental, but her answers always seemed profound and comforting.” – Yes. That’s exactly what happened when I sat with my Grandmother on the porch of our family homestead and snapped beans with her. What lovely memories this brings to my mind and heart. Thank you.
You are so welcome, Sues. Thanks for commenting and I’m glad it tugged at your heart.
Charlie Fusco says
I certainly can relate to your feelings/memories of snapping beans and many other garden bounty rituals. Those times with our grandparents were so much more lessons in character and wisdom than instruction in culinary tasks and the handing down of family recipes. How I miss those days and the gentle people who made such indelible imprints on our young lives. Blest be the tie that bind. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUUE9agdb_A
Absolutely, Charlie. We could both probably recall other garden memories just as rich! Blessings all.
Polly Hood says
Hi Nancy, When I was growing up, we lived in the city, so we went to the market and bought a bushel of green beans to snap and for Mama (cousin Sophia) to can. After Jim and I built our home in Springplace, we planted a big garden. That first year–I think it was 1969–we picked, snapped, and canned 200 quarts of green beans! And they were oh, so good! That garden taught me the meaning of “first fruits.” They were the prettiest fruits, without blemishes, the best of the crop! And we are to bring our first fruits to Jesus-give Him our best! For He is “risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.” (I Cor. 15;20) Although I no longer garden, I still buy green beans and enjoy preparing them! It brings back good memories! Thanks for helping me to remember this special time with loved ones!
You are so welcome, Polly. How sweet of you to share and to take me back to Parker Rd. and Springplace!
Nancy, thank you for the back-porch stroll. I had forgotten the snapping of green beans (and the husking of corn). BTW, I still want to have you and Flo out to my new home–there has been much more work than I anticipated! For example, my dining table is still a card table–but that’s a long story in itself.
Thank you, Sue. And I totally understand. See you soon!
Dee Simon says
Many identified with your comments, I remember how important it was to my mother
that we pick the beans while they were small ( similar to the French beans) and we had
NO strings. I miss being able to select those little ones in these days of packaging in our
stores. I still have loving thoughts of mother when I prepare fresh beans.
Thanks for the happy remembrance. Dee
What sweet memories, Dee. Thank you for sharing!
Pam Peltier Dickinson says
Still have fond memories helping my dear Grandma at her good ole’ farm near Chillicothe, Missouri chucking the corn cobs and snapping fresh green string beans as well as picking all the apples after a lightning struck a tree down!
Thank you, Nancy, for the great remembrance! Pam
There must be a strong connection between grandmothers and green beans, Pam! Thanks for sharing your memories.
Laney Corbitt says
I hadn’t thought of Granny Parker in years, but I can close
my eyes and see her. I have the same memories except we always shelled shelley beans too. So good! You can’t get beans like that any more. Our heritage is so powerful!
Thanks, Laney. Good to hear from you!