Everyone loves her stories. Especially children. Those in her family recall sitting on this porch, listening to her gentle voice—like I’m doing. Here, they shucked corn, or shelled white acre peas.

A back porch. I’m with an elderly woman named Jenny. She’s sitting on a genuine rocking chair.

“Wish I were shelling peas,” says Miss Jenny. “I tell better stories when I’m shelling.”

This is how you know you’ve made it in life. When you find yourself on a porch—shelling, peeling, shucking, or listening to someone over eighty tell a story.

Miss Jenny has cotton-white hair, blue eyes. She lives in a house which her husband built after the Korean War.

Everyone loves her stories. Especially children. Those in her family recall sitting on this porch, listening to her gentle voice—like I’m doing. Here, they shucked corn, or shelled white acre peas.

“Daddy was a part-time preacher,” she tells me. “He told stories, always had him a good one.”

Long ago, people visited her father for advice. Folks with drinking problems, people with marriages on the rocks.

Her father didn’t provide “help.” Instead, he took them fishing. On the water, he’d tell stories.

“Daddy used to say, ‘Going fishing can help a man more than a bellywash of cheap medicine.’”

Bellywash. I miss words like that.

Miss Jenny’s breathing is labored, her voice is frail. But she spins a fine yarn.

She’s the real thing. Her stories are about olden days, clapboard churches, and a childhood with skinned knees.

She even tells stories about her cat.

“Kitty Brown was chasing Blue Bird one day,” she begins. “Blue Bird lured Kitty high into a tree, then flew away. Poor Kitty was stuck up there for two days before anyone knew he was up there.”

She laughs to herself.

She goes on, “Moral of my cat story is: all kitties should be happy on the ground instead of chasing things they shouldn’t.”

And I’m five years old again. Someone get me a sucker.

Then there’s the tale of her grandfather and the escaped fugitive.

Instead of searching for the fugitive, her grandfather gathered local men to go hunting in the woods. They hunted for pleasure, without even searching for an escaped prisoner.

That night, they all camped among the pines and barbecued. They had a famous time. They cooked so much meat over a pit you could smell it in the next county.

One night, a young man wandered into their campsite, wearing leg irons.

“I can’t take it anymore,” the young man said. “That smell is killing me.”

They caught him, fed him, and they all lived happily ever after. Roll the credits.

The old woman’s punchline: “You catch more flies with barbecue than you do with a posse.”

Posse. I miss words like that, too.

She remembers a time when pencils were more useful than cellphones. When fishing boats were where pastors did their best work.

When communities were kept alive with stories, song, gossip, and white acre peas. Every new calendar day, her era drifts further into an internet age.

Miss Jenny and I are interrupted. Her daughter rolls an oxygen canister onto the porch. She fits tubes over Miss Jenny’s ears and adjusts the nosepiece.

“I hate getting old,” Miss Jenny says. “Sometimes I just can’t breathe.”

Anyway, that was a few years ago that we talked. I remember it well. It was a nice day. She spoke. I listened. I could’ve sat for hours, but COPD kept her from it.

But I still remember her porch. I remember her white hair. I remember her saying, “It’s just too bad there ain’t no potatoes to peel. I tell better stories when my hands are moving.”

Your stories couldn’t have gotten any better, Miss Jenny.

May you rest in peace.

27 comments

  1. CALISTA - March 19, 2018 5:47 am

    Thanks Sean for taking my mind off of tomorrow morning’s dr appointment. Now I can go to sleep thanking about shelling peas with Granny Best on her front porch while she told about growing up picking cotton, wearing gardenias in her hair as a teenager to smell good cause she didn’t have perfume and drawing water from a well to bath her babies. 💙

    Reply
  2. anne trawick - March 19, 2018 6:36 am

    You tell a pretty good story yourself, and come summer, I’ll bet I can find you some peas to shell.

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  3. John Griffin - March 19, 2018 8:22 am

    Yep.

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  4. Penn Wells - March 19, 2018 11:24 am

    When I am elected President, I will get Congress to pass a law that says No new houses are to be built without a front porch. With rocking chairs. 👍

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  5. Cynthia Saunders - March 19, 2018 11:27 am

    That era only fades if we let it. I grew up like that and loved every minute as well. Hmmm…I might need to head to the farmers market myself. It’s gullywasher season. Perfect time to get my hands busy.

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  6. Jean - March 19, 2018 11:46 am

    Very interesting, Sean. There was a segment on Sunday Morning (CBS) yesterday about how using one’s hands stimulates a part of the brain that releases creativity. Shelling peas and peeling potatoes works. Hand washing dishes works for me.

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  7. Carol Houston Rothwell - March 19, 2018 12:36 pm

    I have COPD,I wish I had Ms.Jennys stories,
    But.I can read and listen to your’s & one day I’ll look up Ms.Jenny ,cause I like her stories too.!
    Love ya.👼!

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  8. Steven P Bailey - March 19, 2018 12:48 pm

    Beautiful…

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  9. Carolyn Woods - March 19, 2018 1:16 pm

    White Acre Peas . . . Love those peas! People north of the bug line do not know what you are talking about much less have never shelled them or ate them. Life does not get any better than a bowl of those peas and a piece of corn bread! Thanks for the memories!

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  10. Harriet - March 19, 2018 1:18 pm

    This is one of my favorites. Brings back some wonderful memories.

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  11. Virginia Hamlin - March 19, 2018 1:50 pm

    Don’t forget Purple Hull and Crowder peas shelled on the porch and butter beans right out of the garden.

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  12. Jack Darnell - March 19, 2018 2:28 pm

    Elderly, over 80, son you’ve got some nerve I’ll give you that! I love me a woman over 80!

    And yes, this is a good entry, Shelling peas and peeling taters does bring back memories. Thanks young fella! LOL

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  13. mar - March 19, 2018 3:05 pm

    I remember growing up on a farm in Kansas with a very productive garden. My parents were decendents of German immigrant farmers. I. was born in 1949.
    I remember sitting on the cement step and hulling English sweet peas or cleaning super sweet corn ears….. That is after we caught several “fryer” size chickens using the “hook” which I thought was a really great tool. It had a wooden handle followed by a thin iron rod about 4 feet long that was bent into an elongated but narrow 2 inch hook at the end. You had to get the narrow hook around a chicken’s leg and then you could pull the chicken to you and get a hold of both legs. We would then take the chicken to the big tree stump that had a big flat top complete with two tall headed nails about an inch and a half apart. We put the chickens neck between the nails, stretched it out a bit, and then Mom would swing a corn knife down with great speed, and that was that! Sort of a guillotine approach. Ha. It was quick and then she would toss the headless chicken onto the grass, after which it would run around for about 15 seconds and fall over. We would then dunk the chickens into a milk bucket of boiling water which we just brought out from the house. This would soften the feathers and enable them to be pulled out fairly easily. We would pull handfuls of the feathers out and throw them into a bushel basket we had for that purpose. We would work on each chicken until we had all the feathers off. We usually did about 5 chickens at a time–more than that and the boilding water would get too cool and the feathers wouldn’t pull out. After that, we would take them into the basement and singe the few hairy feathers that might remain over the old gas stove flames. Then up to the kitchen sink to cut off legs, open and clean the inside cavity, etc. Thank goodness Mom always did that part. She would cut up the kitchen and I would do the final cleaning of every single part.
    I don’t know why I got off on that part. I really just wanted to post about scraped up knees. My Catholic grammar school had a playground with Monkey bars, swings, teeter totter, etc. but it was in an area covered with chat. Chat consists of small pieces of broken rock with rather sharp edges. This was only a problem if you fell onto the chat from a considerable height, which I regularly did. Or if you were running so fast, and tripped, and fell onto your knees. Thus, I a very fast runner and a daredevil tomboy, often had bloody knees after recess. I spent so many days with gauze bandages on my knees, so the kids in my class (55 kids in one room class for my grade) named me “Bambi” . Even with the largest number of kids in my grade class and one teacher for the early grades, I still managed to graduate from my private girls high school in No. 1 position for the four years. Just goes to show that number of children in a classroom doesn’t define the result.
    Must get back to other things, now.

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  14. Diana K Williams - March 19, 2018 3:31 pm

    Another great one.. Thanks Sean! 🙂

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  15. Connie - March 19, 2018 3:40 pm

    At my age, I’ve lost most of the storytellers I ever knew. The kids I know aren’t interested in stories about “the old days” except to tell me they’ve heard that story already. Thank you for carrying on the tradition. If someone doesn’t, it’s all going to be gone.

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  16. Sue Cronkite - March 19, 2018 4:14 pm

    Another good one. I keep on telling the stories. Whether anyone listens or not.

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  17. Pamela McEachern - March 19, 2018 5:37 pm

    When I lived in Pensacola my best friend there was from Miss. And had grown up on the good food of the South too. We had many a meal of peas, creamed corn and cornbread it was a religious experience to have and a bonding of simpler times. I still make that meal and love the stories we shared together. I’m having it tonight!

    Peace and Love from Birmingham

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  18. LARRY WALL - March 19, 2018 6:56 pm

    Ah, Sean, what great memories you have revived in my mind today with the story of Miss Jenny. I was blessed enough to have grown up in a time that people, myself included, sat around and had long chats or stories while shelling peas and beans. It helped to talk to make the task shorter and easier. I can remember how sore the ends of my fingers under the nails would become. Sweet, now. I think I will go to the market and see if they have any early peas that me and the wife can shell tonight and talk about stories of our 55 years together.

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  19. Marlene - March 19, 2018 9:00 pm

    I love your tributes. What a gift to families – your special memories of their loved ones. God bless you.

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  20. Margaret Byrd - March 19, 2018 9:21 pm

    You haven’t lived until you’ve eaten Little Lady Finger peas. I’m not sure that people who don’t live around Ozark Al and are about 80 years old even know what they are. They are so tiny that the mechanical pea shelters can’t even shell them. My father-in-law was an incredible farmer and he always planted these. I would pack my three children in the car in Huntsville, Al as soon as school was out each summer and head for Ozark. My mother-in-law and I would shell those little peas on her porch, blanch and freeze many bags and put them away away for the winter. The thumb nail would be so sore after shelling these tiny peas! No pea even comes close to these in taste. So many things of the past will soon be forgotten. Thank you for bringing back wonderful memories. At 82,I think I’ve lived in the best of times and feel sorry for the young folks growing up in a world that I don’t even recognize anymore. I was able to be at the Ozark First Methodist church last Friday night. Thank you for a wonderful evening. I’m SO sorry someone didn’t warn you about Applebees! Margaret Byrd

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    • Lynda Howard - March 20, 2018 7:20 pm

      omg YOU are so right and okra mixed, at least that is what my Bigmoma did.

      Reply
  21. Jack Quanstrum - March 19, 2018 10:18 pm

    Amen! Absolutely wonderful story!

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  22. Cmoffitt - March 19, 2018 10:18 pm

    I used to shell peas with my grandmother, it made my thumbs hurt for a week! The “pain” matched her “dust bowl day stories,” i love peas, but i hate the pain of shelling them…..😑

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  23. Joan Workman - March 19, 2018 11:21 pm

    From reading the comments it seems there are a lot of us ole whie haired grannies still around. Some days I certainly do wish I could go back to the ‘GOOD OLD DAYS’. Bless you all white haired ladies.

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  24. Edna B. - March 20, 2018 2:59 am

    Yup, there’s a lot of us still around. Thanks for this beautiful story, Sean. You have a super night, hugs, Edna B.

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  25. Kelly Johnson - May 29, 2018 1:00 pm

    During my childhood, this was a daily summertime occurrence. My grandmother grew an enormous garden. Her mother, my great-grandmother would walk to her house every week day morning to help with the three grandkids(at the time) and harvesting the vegetables. We all sat under a shade tree in the front yard and shelled peas, or broke green beans and my great-grandmother told us stories to keep us entertained. When there were enough veggies to start putting in jars, my grandmother would go in the house and get started on the canning process. She wouldn’t let her grandchildren come in the kitchen when she was using the pressure cooker “just in case”. My great would stay outside with us and we’d keep shelling or breaking. My favorite were the dog stories. One winter my great got sick, and as therapy to keep her spirits up, she wrote down a lot of her stories. My momma typed them, some cousins illustrated and she had them printed for every person in the family. That book is one of my most cherished possessions. It not only reminds me of peeling carrots, but also the time and love that my great shared with us.

    Reply

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