Field Peas

A back porch. Rural Alabama. 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. Field peas. An Alabamian pastime.

“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. God, 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 the aroma of cooking fat in the next county.

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

“I can’t do this 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. We lose another one every few moments. They’re dying off in droves each day.

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. Sometimes…”

She gasps.

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 forever in peace.


  1. John Flippen - August 10, 2022 7:06 am

    On May 17 you wrote an article entitled TALKING. I shared that article with a friend who suffers from deep depression accompanied by suicidal thought. Yesterday we met for lunch. He thanked me for sending him your post. “When I read how suicide affected all of the family, I knew I could never saddle them with the guilt described in the article. That is what kept me from committing suicide during my most recent bout with a very deep depression.”
    And….. We are in Malawi!
    Thanks for all you do. Thanks for making your pain a stepping stone for others healing!!!!!
    Imagine More!
    John Flippen

  2. oldlibrariansshelf - August 10, 2022 8:54 am

    You have learned how to listen well, Sean. Your readers are very thankful that you write so well, too!

  3. Ronald Blankenship - August 10, 2022 9:56 am

    Wonderful story. Reminds me of my grandma.

  4. Ernie in River City - August 10, 2022 10:46 am

    Stories connect us. With our past. With each other. Thank you for keeping us connected. And for connecting us with Miss Jenny.

  5. Julie - August 10, 2022 11:14 am

    Thank you for this story. May Miss Jenny rest in peace.ju

    • Priscilla Rodgers - August 10, 2022 12:39 pm

      Reminds me of all the sundays all my family gathered on my grandmother’s porch and listening to all the stories. The story teller of my generation passed away this summer and I know there were many more stories I hadn’t heard. Who’s gonna tell the next generation?

  6. Charlotte Laughter - August 10, 2022 11:26 am

    Love your stories. I hate it when it ends.

  7. Joan Crowson - August 10, 2022 11:35 am

    I love your writing and I love the sketches that accompany them. You are one very talented guy and you play piano to boot! Thanks for a great start to my morning.

  8. Karen - August 10, 2022 11:47 am

    Sean, I miss those times too. Sitting on my grandma’s porch, shelling and listening to her stories. Beats social media any time.

  9. Anne McDaniel - August 10, 2022 12:20 pm

    Those times were the best!

  10. Paul McCutchen - August 10, 2022 12:28 pm

    Thanks Sean, brings back memories

  11. Louise Stewart - August 10, 2022 12:47 pm

    And suddenly I’m a kid again.. on the back porch helping Mama shell peas.. or in the boat fishing with my Uncle.. Thank you Sean!

  12. Te - August 10, 2022 12:56 pm

    There is a deep, almost frustrating, sadness when someone like Miss Jenny passes. It’s almost as if a part of our history, sometimes a history we didn’t even know existed, evaporates before our eyes and then, from our memory. I was a child in those days of shelling field peas and sitting on the porch gossiping and fanning with cardboard church fans in Old Hickory, TN. The porch ceilings were always painted blue; it was unheard of to paint it any other color. No one ever said why. I remember my grandfather, whose name was Sidney, but he was called Jack, and all the grandkids called him Jack-a-Daddy, rolled cigarettes out of plug tobacco and wrinkled-up brown paper bag. He was from the Tennessee mountains. Always wore his hat. I remember using a word, “majawell,” all my childhood without having the faintest clue of its meaning, but using it correctly, as it turned out – might as well. Tennessee slang. And all these memories disappear, to borrow a phrase from Bladerunner, like tears in rain if they aren’t spoken. I’ve made a point of telling my grans stories about my family. They may not think much of them now, but they will remember. Our oral history is fast disappearing. Thanks, Sean. I didn’t know Miss Jenny, but I can see her, and I was sitting on that porch with you and her.

  13. Jeff Morrow - August 10, 2022 1:31 pm


  14. Keloth Anne - August 10, 2022 1:34 pm


  15. David Britnell - August 10, 2022 1:58 pm

    Sean, I saw a comment that said something about you playing piano. I have played by ear since I was about 5-6 years old. I would love to hear a story whether real or imagined about you and your music. I sure enjoyed reading about Miss Jenny today! Brought back lots of memories.

  16. Jannie Bryant - August 10, 2022 2:16 pm

    I always wanted a grandma like that. Rest in peace Jenny

  17. Tom - August 10, 2022 2:21 pm

    You do have a way with words. Took me back to shelling peas, butter beans and whatever with my grandmother on the porch. No A/C so we had to sit on the porch and pray for a breeze. The Red- Head and I shelled peas last week in the den, just too hot to sit on the porch. I suppose I’ve grown soft in my old age. Sure do miss the days as a kid sitting on porch with grandparents hearing the stories and getting bits of wisdom that still stick with me today.

  18. Teresa E - August 10, 2022 2:29 pm

    Love LOVE this story! I was just talking to a co-worker (from NY) the other day about field peas. To my surprise, she had never heard of them! She said it must be a southern thing. Perhaps so. How refreshing to hear the stories from Miss Jenny, while reminiscing on a front porch, and the mention of field peas. Thank you, Sean.

  19. Susan W Fitch - August 10, 2022 2:45 pm

    Fabulous! I miss those times too! Thankful that I can remember!!

  20. pattymack43 - August 10, 2022 4:46 pm

    Thank you for telling us about Miss Jenny! Blessings!

  21. Deanna - August 10, 2022 5:17 pm

    If church had been as instructive as your writings, I would have learned more, had less guilt and had more love of this world and the people around me. I don’t go to church anymore but I read you everyday because it nourishes my soul. Thank you.

  22. 1018le - August 10, 2022 5:37 pm

    There’s too few story tellers like Miss Jenny and too few listeners, like Sean of the South! May we watch for more listening opportunities because there are still stories to tell. God Bless.

  23. Anne Arthur - August 10, 2022 5:41 pm

    Another storyteller lost, whose stories our youngsters will never enjoy.
    May Miss Jenny’s soul rest in peace.

  24. Linda Moon - August 10, 2022 6:57 pm

    Oh boy, I’ve loved an old woman who rocked on the front porch a lot. She sometimes shelled peas. But I suspect she was also rocking to relax, away from her brood of 12 children for a while. I’m so glad you remember Miss Jenny’s porch and told us her story. May you continue to tell the stories, Sean….so very beautifully.

  25. John Myers - August 10, 2022 7:23 pm

    I remember the stories, and exaggerations, in our country store and especially the barber shop. The homemade checkerboards and countless “gotcha” pranks.

  26. Jacquelyn Fossett - August 10, 2022 7:26 pm

    Field peas make any life better!! I would sit with my Daddy and Mother Mills to shell anything out of the Garden. The garden was my Daddy Mills’ sanctuary-we weren’t allowed there. Of course, it was weedless!!

  27. Rebecca Souders - August 10, 2022 8:43 pm

    Your tributes are gold, Sean Dietrich. Don’t stop.

  28. Trent - August 10, 2022 9:11 pm

    Love the South. Love all the Miss Jennys out there. Love nostalgia and good, honest conversations. Heartwarming as always Sean, thank you sir.

  29. Billy Moore - August 10, 2022 10:15 pm

    I’m not certain, but I believe it was Louis L’Amour who said, “Every time one of the old ones dies, its like a library burned.” or something of that order. Very true.

  30. Nancy H Ragland - August 10, 2022 11:21 pm

    Growing up in Holtville, Alabama, I remember sitting in the front yard shelling peas and butter beans. One or more neighbors would would drift over and they’d join in. My dad would start telling stories, and the peas and beans seemed to shell themselves. My dad could tell a tall tale, and you didn’t realize it was “tall” until he got to the end. My brother, Max Hale, inherited his ability to spin a tale, and so the art goes on. Story telling is a precious gift, given to the future!

  31. Joan Vibert - August 11, 2022 5:01 pm


  32. Gayle Wilson - August 11, 2022 9:38 pm

    Those were the days. Shelling peas, eating watermelon slices cut with a pocket knife, shucking corn, eating peaches so juicy they dripped down to your elbows.

  33. Kathryn - August 12, 2022 1:14 am

    White acre peas!! It’s been ages since I’ve even heard that phrase! Pure heaven in your mouth! I used to sit on my grandmother’s porch and shell white acres with her. Just something about sitting there, rocking, shelling peas, and listening to her stories made me feel good. Thanks for bringing back the memories!


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