I Pick Through

It’s almost time, for my time, in the garden. The ‘we’ in ‘our’ garden, my dad and I, is a specific split of tasks. But, even then, his urgency makes itself known like the downpours that provide the needed rain by the weatherman’s measurement on one day instead of many.

I sit in the shade with my panting dogs when I hear his yell, “Probably a meal’s worth of peas. You going to pick through?”

“I’m still eating kale. Can they wait?”

Now he’s close, in the row, eyes scanning. Dad only picks a handful and walks away.

“Do I need to pick today?” I repeat.

“Maybe I shouldn’t grow them,” he mumbles to us both. “If you’re not going to eat them.”

“I didn’t. I didn’t say that.” Thunder rumbles. A lightning flash of teeth and split open pea pods on the ground. I tug my dog to his feet and tie him to a nearby stake. I speed past my dad to the house and return as quickly with the colander in hand. I pick through.

All summer, this is what I do, with peas or otherwise. I pick through. Though the pea season is short compared other produce, picking peas comes with more stories than most harvests.

“When I was a kid, we used to grow peas. Could just sit down in the field and eat when you were hungry,” Dad begins a memory.

“Peas for who?”

“Libby’s.”

I recognize the company name off the cans we win at the fair by spinning the trivia wheel. You can donate your canned goods to food pantries. Dad always carries his home.

He continues, “You could flounder yourself. And the landing strip for one of their planes was right over there.” He points across the field that now only rotates between corn and soybeans. “Man that was exciting stuff.”

“Why did you stop? Growing for them,” I am suddenly reconsidering options for the land that call back old standards of work and chemical use.

“Didn’t want to grow on unirrigated land, I guess. Can’t guarantee the same yield in a dry year.” He shrugs his sadness away. Just a sprinkle, a few rain drops, this time. Not a storm.

I pick through.

“Do you want any help?” Dad asks, setting the Ziploc container on the counter full of a mixture of pea pods to eat and to shuck.

“I got it. It’s not a big deal.”

“It’s not all peas. There’s broccoli on the bottom.” He grabs a pod to open quickly. Peas pop in his teeth. “My grandma used to make us sit and pod them. Man that’s labor intensive work, but I guess you have all those kids. They got to do something.”

I remember this story. It’s the reason we only grow one row of peas in the garden despite my instance we could freeze them for winter instead of buying from gasoline burned miles away. It’s also my favorite story, the one about his aunts who didn’t want to take the time and tried to use a ringer washer instead. Pea pods in one side and peas out the other. It didn’t work that way, but I love the story. I bought an old ringer washer at an antique store with worn colors that match my bathroom.

I dig into the first pod with more thumb than nail. The pod cracks in half. I dig again. Two peas drop into my bowl. One flies across the room. I find it in a hidden corner, and promise to pay more attention next time. I don’t mind the monotony. It’s a welcome break for computer keys and phone calls. Though, the pods can be as resistant to open as minds.

I pick through.

My cousin brings her two year old out to the garden to pluck kale leaves and snip herbs. We talk about small children and vegetables. She’s taught her daughter what her father taught her, how to whistle a blade of grass between two fingers. I smile because my father taught me too. We must have more mutual retellings. What are they?

The child is most fascinated by the peas. I open one pod and she grazes the three round balls with her finger. I pick one out and present it to her between two fingers. She enjoys the snap between two teeth and enthusiastically grabs for more. We finish the first handful and she points to me, to pick through. So, I do. And, I wonder if I didn’t live here, would the seed of stories still be planted each year too for me to pick through.

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