by Dr. Marshall Lysne
It’s been quite a while since I wrote a story on “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.” I think it may have been when I was in sixth grade, but even so, it sometimes never hurts to take a little time and reflect on some of the things that have occurred over the last several months.
First of all, I don’t get summer vacations anymore. I’m supposed to be retired. But I am finding out that “retirement” is simply a new job title that doesn’t have any structured vacation benefits. It just means that most days, especially in the summer, there are a lot of things to do when you get up in the morning, and you are usually not done by evening. I told my wife, Pam, that I really needed to get a part-time job so I could get some time off to rest. She just laughed and said maybe we’ll talk about it in the fall. In the meantime, I’d better get back on that mower and get cracking before we need to hire a baler for all the long grass I would be leaving on the lawn.
A couple of days ago, Pam and I were sitting on our patio shelling the first picking of this year’s pea crop. This certainly isn’t hard work, but it is time consuming, and it triggered some old memories of some lazy summer days long ago while growing up on the farm.
My grandmother would sit in the doorway of our old woodshed in the shade and shell the peas that she had just picked from her garden. It was usually very warm in mid-summer like it is now, and the doorway of the woodshed offered some well-appreciated shade and a place to rest.
The woodshed was really not used as a woodshed anymore, for when I was in my elementary years, we had changed from a wood-burning kitchen stove to one fueled by electricity. Nevertheless, the building was still in place, having outlived its two previous lives as an auxiliary kitchen in the summer and a repository for the wood used by the wood cook stove in the winter.
As was the case in many early farmsteads in the first quarter of the twentieth century and before, there was no air conditioning or really any other means of keeping the house cool in the summer time. So to help alleviate the oppressive heat in the house at this time of year, cooking was often done outside in an adjacent building called the summer kitchen. Here a wood-burning kitchen stove was set up with the appropriate pots and pans and, of course, the requisite supply of wood.
Since there was not any significant indoor plumbing apart from a small hand pump that drew water from a cistern supplied by collecting rainwater, washing dishes and clothes was also done in the summer kitchen. A sort of home-away-from-home arrangement.
However, at that time of my youth, the building still stood. In addition to a place for my grandmother to shell peas, it also was the favorite haunt of a newly hatched batch of kittens that always seemed to appear this time of year. The building had a curious hole in the doorway between the wood beams upon which the building sat and the wood floor. Memory has dimmed as to the reason for this hole, but perhaps it was simply a partially missing board, not enough to interfere with sitting in the doorway, but not bad enough to get fixed either, given the current function of the building, which at present was little more than holding up the roof. The kittens, however, were blissfully unaware of any of this and scampered around the doorway and my grandmother, running in and out of the hole in the floor.
My grandmother was of stout Norwegian heritage and by all accounts strong in body and spirit. The matriarch of a family of three girls and solely responsible for the survival of herself, her daughters, and the farm, having lost her husband at the height of the Depression, she suffered no fools but was fair and never asked of anyone something that she would not do herself. But those responsibilities, too, had eased somewhat in recent years with the return to the farm of her middle daughter and her husband. So now she had some time away from the daily routine for shelling peas.
I have to admit that I loved raw peas. I still do. Snapping open the pod and popping some into your mouth is a treat akin to fresh strawberries and raspberries right off the plant. But like most kids, I liked it even better when someone else did the picking and all I had to do was reach in the pail and help myself. I did avail myself of that opportunity probably more that I should have, especially since I recently found out how long it takes and how many peas one has to shell to make any sort of pile in the bottom of a bowl.
Nevertheless, my grandmother, tough as she was, seldom did little more than brush me away with a good-natured swat of her hand and a smile.
It’s surprising how something as simple as sitting around shelling peas can trigger all those memories. That old woodshed has long since been torn down; my grandmother, having lived to a respectable age of 99, is of course gone; and even the farm is no longer in the family. But it seems like it was just yesterday— well, maybe a little longer ago than that, but not much.
I guess I had better get back on the mower and keep going as I am retired and still don’t have any vacation benefits. Oh yes, and get this theme ready to turn in so my editor won’t have to send me a reminder that there are deadlines to meet.
[Editor’s note: Harrumph!]
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