My sister has been digitizing a lot of old family photographs that came into her possession after our parents died. Many are pleasing, but none caught my eye quite like the one above.
That’s me sitting on the concrete porch, surrounded by my sister, father and grandfather. I’m guessing my mother snapped the picture of us doing a “Texas thang,” shelling black-eyed peas.
There’s nothing special about the photograph. The composition is uninspired and the colors are washed out. It would be better if there was a fly swatter somewhere in the picture, because that was an important thing to have at Grandma and Grandpa Redus’ house in Devine, Texas on a hot summer day.
When the wind was fair it was often foul, because you could sniff the nearby feedlot, which probably had something to do with a fly population that was always significant and motivated.
I’m sure it all looks very rustic to you now in 2014, and hell, it even seemed pretty rustic to me when the photo was taken back in the mid-1960s, judging by my apparent age.
What makes it special is that it’s a moment in time that I’ll never be able to duplicate. Even with all my Texas connections, I don’t know anybody who still picks and shells their own black-eyed peas.
I can buy a small plastic bag of dried black-eyes from my grocer here in New Jersey, and yes, I can easily rip open that bag and cook up a real fine mess o’ peas, but it just wouldn’t be the same (for the uninitiated, you would never cook a pot of peas. Nope, it’s properly a mess o’ peas).
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that pea-picking doesn’t look like much fun at all, and you’re right, it wasn’t. It was hot going out in the field, stooping under the Texas sun to pick pea pods from scrubby plants growing in long, sandy rows. And shelling the peas could make your fingers sore long before you were finished.
The great thing about pea-picking was the social aspect. There was no air conditioning, so the fly-spattered porch really was the coolest place to sit while you worked, the plink, plink, plink of the peas hitting the bottom of the pot adding their special music to the conversation.
When I first looked at the picture, I thought, I’ll never do that again.
Grandma and Grandpa are long gone, of course, and so are Mama and Daddy. My sister still lives in Texas, but even if she found us a pea patch, and even if I flew thousands of miles on a pea-picking pilgrimage, we’d probably just sit in the air conditioning afterward, far from the flies and the feedlot, in a place and time where the plink, plink, plink has a hollow ring.