My Father and the Lima Beans
by Paula Underwood
[[Paula Underwood is an oral historian with lifelong training in this ancient Native American methodology. She is a descendant of the chief Shenandoah, known and respected by Benjamin Franklin, and also a descendent of Benjamin Franklin.]]
There was something going on in the kitchen. I could hear my mother’s voice and the soft query of my father. The tone in his voice caught my ear. There was more to be understood.
I heard my mother’s laugh and the rattling of a paper bag, … something hard going inside, many small things tumbling in. And finally, I heard my father’s whistle as he went out the screen door, . . . rattling whatever he had in that paper bag. His way of catching my attention.
‘He wants me to come,’ I thought. And, even as those words skimmed over the surface of my mind, my feet already carried me through that same screen door, following the music of my father’s whistle, the syncopation of the rattle which was a paper bag.
He was already seated on the beaten earth floor of our garage. . . our special place for learning. On the floor in front of him he had begun to set out a circle of lima beans. Lima beans! So that’s what h e sought form my mother. Permission for some of our dinner to become one more lesson for an inquiring child.
‘What are you doing, Daddy?” I asked, seeing no explanation i could devise.
‘Why, I’m building my community, Honeygirl!’ And one by one he laid out a circle of lima beans, one of our Three Sacred Sisters, members of his new community.
‘This one is a woman who’s about 45 years old. She’s a real hard worker, but she sure is a nag!’ Holding up one bean for me to see, to understand as part of his community, he placed it carefully on the floor.
‘And this is a boy of about 12. He can be a real hard worker, too, but he’s into mischeif most of the time!’
And one by one, my father described his community to me. A hunter who understood deer better than corn, an elderly woman who still knew how to bend to any task, two young men just learning how to hunt, a kind young woman who was soon to be married, a young woman who was very beautiful … and who knew this to be true …. fonder of sitting and letting others admire her than of bending to any task. One by one the complexities of any community, of the community my father gathered, were laid out before me for consideration.
‘Now,’ my father said when he was done, ‘that’s my community! Where’s yours?’
‘Mine? What do you mean mine?’ I asked, wondering if I should ask more lima beans of my mother, even less for dinner.
‘Well, you can have any of mine. Any you might like. You can take any member of my community you want for your own . . . and build your own community.’
What a thought! Any one I liked . . . build my own community …
‘Well, I don’t want the 45 year old woman who nags! There’s enough of that in this life. But I’ll take the 12 year old boy who gets into mischief. Guess if I can handle my brother I can handle him!’
And one by one I chose, … or did not choose, … members of my father’s community for my own. I chose every one I thought would get along well, the ones I thought would be nice to live with and left the others behind for my father to deal with. After all, he was older than me, wiser than me as well.
‘That it, Honeygirl?’ my Father asked?
‘Yeah, I think that’s all’.
‘Looks like a pretty nice group o’ folks!’ he went on.
‘I thought so!’ Just think how well we will all get on together.
‘Now,’ my Father added, ‘It’s harvest time and there’s a lot o’ things that need doin’. So let’s see how this is going to work. You need two people to walk down the rows o’ corn and twist off the heads. Then you need two people behind them to chop down the corn stalks. Over here you need four people ready to start processing the corn.’
One by one my father laid out the tasks that needed doing . . all at the same time.
And I very soon ran out of people!
‘Well,’ I suggested as the work yet undone stretched out in front of me. ‘Maybe I could add that 45 year old woman who’s a hard worker, even if she does nag! Maybe I could put her and that 12 year old that gets into mischief together. That way they’d keep each other busy and get a lot of work done!
‘And maybe I could add .. ‘
One by one the members of my father’s community found their way into my own, each chosen for some skill lacking in the others, all needed for the vital task of seeing our community through one more long, cold winter!
Still, the woman who knew she was beautiful had not been included. After all, what could someone like that add to a day filled with work?
‘Hoo-ee, Honeygirl, looks like your folks is really working hard. Looks like things are gettin done. But you know, they look tired to me. Looks to me like they need something to cheer them up. What could that be?
And then I remembered. The young woman who knew she was beautiful . . . also loved to sing. And it seemed to me maybe not so bad . . . if she sat on a rock . . . near the People . . . sat and sang to them of celebrations and full stomachs and a new Spring greeted by a happy People. If she sat and sang, she could ease their day, help their work, brighten their world.
Perhaps her self-awareness of beauty was not so bad after all!
And so you see how it was? How one by one each and every member of my father’s community found their way into mine .. . for this or that reason, this or that skill, this or that need as yet unmet.
And you see how it is, … from that day to this . . . I have never had any trouble at all including in my community people I might have found inconvenient, . . once upon a time . . . but saw now as offering any community . . . my community, . . the diversity we may yet need.
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