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Darrell Huckaby - French tips and green thumbs don't mix

My son Jackson and I live in a house with three women and they all went to the nail salon the other day and came home with something called French manicures - although I am pretty sure the ladies who did them were from Vietnam and not France.

Of course, if I remember my history, Vietnam was a French colony up until the siege at Dien Bien Phu, so there you go.

French manicures. Now that's a good way to spend a hard earned dollar or two. When you get one of those, your nails are clear and glossy, except for the tips, which are edged in white. I believe you could get pretty much the same effect by scraping paint off a wall, but at $30 a shot, the manicure basically renders the hands worthless for useful activity.

I mean, my daughter Jenna can still play the piano in church on Sunday morning, and my other daughter, Jamie, can still count out pills at Conyers Pharmacy, where she has managed to find gainful employment for the past four summers - and my lovely wife Lisa, who births babies for a living, can still do that - although she probably wears an extra pair of surgical gloves while doing so - but you can forget about them shelling butterbeans for a while.

Shelling butterbeans. Y'all be honest now. When's the last time you even thought about shelling butterbeans - much less actually shelled one?

I thought so. Just one more facet of what used to pass for everyday life that is gone with the winds of change that have swept over the American South over the past three or four decades.

Oh, I'm sure there are a few diehards among you that still sit and shell from time to time, but whether you know it or not - you are the exception rather than the rule. Now once upon a time everybody I knew spent just about every evening, this time of year, "laying by" for the winter.

Our evening activity, back when I was coming up, was not determined by the television schedule. It was based on what was getting ripe in the garden - and as July turned into August there was always something getting ripe in the garden.

Sometimes there was okra to cut, and everybody past the age of four knew that when you went into the garden to cut okra you wore a long sleeved shirt - otherwise your arms would itch for days.

Sometimes there was corn to pull - and deciding when corn was ready was a delicate proposition. You wanted to make sure that the silks had started to turn brown or the kernels wouldn't be ready, but if you left the corn too long it would be hard and nobody wanted to put up hard corn.

I hated shucking corn. Absolutely hated it. My hands would be sore for days afterward and Mama would make me take that little brush and go over each cob until there wasn't a silk left on it. Mama did the hard part, though. She cut it off the cob and blanched it to freeze and that was a messy proposition. The whole kitchen would be covered up when Mama was putting up corn.

Shucking corn was a walk in the park compared to shelling butterbeans, though. I didn't mind shelling purple hulled peas - although my hands would be purple for days afterward - but I hated shelling butterbeans. My thumb nails would be worn out down to the cuticles and stay sore for days - and if you got a mess of beans that weren't filled out; well, an already hard job got that much harder.

I didn't mind stringing beans all that much. We grew pole beans and they were easier to gather than bunch beans because you didn't have to stoop over so much. Oh, we grew it all, back in the day - squash, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers - you name it and if it would grow in red clay we had it in our garden, and if it could be frozen or canned or pickled or preserved, we put it up for the winter months.

I can still remember those hot sultry summer evenings - sitting on the porch, newspapers spread out everywhere, shelling peas and listening to Ed Thelinius broadcast the Atlanta Cracker games on the radio. I'm sure I whined and complained about having to do it, but we sure did eat well in January.

And I am absolutely certain that Tommie Huckaby never had a French manicure - but my oh my, could she cook up some vegetables.

It's funny how we measure progress, isn't it?

And for the record - my in-laws still raise a garden and they still sit on their porch every evening and shell beans and peas and such. Only now they watch the Braves on cable television instead of listening to the Crackers on the radio. And my mother-in-law still cooks great meals all winter long.

Do I go up and help, you ask?

Are you kidding? I just got my nails done, too.

Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator.