From A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

Bean Talk

Both the happiest and most contented moments of my childhood were spent in the company of my grandmother, Dee-Dee. She was my confidante, friend and advisor. Whenever I think about her, I picture her in the kitchen, with me by her side, as she taught me the art of homemaking. My favorite activity was snapping green beans. We snapped beans to boil with onion, salt, pepper and a ham hock. This was her way; this was her mother’s way. Bean-snapping was tedious but never boring. It provided me with an opportunity to have her all to myself. She was a captive audience for my stories, thoughts, ideas, jokes and the ever-present analysis of my life.

In her kitchen, we each had our own stool at the bar that separated the kitchen from the dining room. Having my own distinct seat made me feel secure. Our conversations over the beans were varied throughout the years: We talked about family, the death of my father, my first kiss, first date, engagement, marriage and children. We also talked about sunsets, her garden, the sound of rain, which comforted us both, and the feeling of grass, as we were both happier when we were barefoot. Sometimes we were simply silent, enjoying each other’s companionship and nothing more; sometimes there was no need for words. And we laughed. We laughed until we cried. My childhood, adolescence and early adulthood were all scrutinized and enjoyed over beans.

During those moments of snapping, I felt nourished by the smells in the kitchen and the warmth of her touch when her hand would brush mine in the pursuit of beans. She listened to me. She loved me.

Suddenly, so it seemed, Dee-Dee was diagnosed with lung cancer and died within three months. I was faced with filling her unfillable shoes. I was lost. I was not ready for her to die because I was not grown yet. Although I was twenty-eight, I still needed her.

Two months after her death, I found myself snapping green beans. On my stool. In her house. Alone. My grandfather had requested the roast beef and green bean dinner. I knew he wanted her smell, her cooking, to feel her in the house. I did, too. He was in his usual spot, in his room watching sports on television. My husband and daughter Kristina were in the den, watching a movie, and I was alone. Suddenly, I was cold, too; I trembled, and I started to cry. I wept softly in front of my silent, stringy green witnesses. I did not yet realize why I was crying. How silly to cry in front of a bunch of beans!

Then, I noticed the silence, the devastating silence that an absent life leaves behind. This was the calm after the storm, after the frantic months of sickness, days of desperate burial procedures, and weeks of confusion and shock that followed. This was the moment that it all became real. The beans were only a catalyst for comprehension and clarity. Now what would I do? How could I, by myself, do what Dee-Dee and I had done together for over twenty years? I missed her. I had not grieved since the initial diagnosis. I had been so busy taking care of her and burying her that I did not have time to miss her. I had been a steamroller of strength, protecting her, guiding her and listening to her, just as she had been for me. And now I was utterly alone, and all because of the damn beans.

At that moment, Kristina bounced into the room with all of the enthusiasm that a six-year-old should have. At the sight of the beans, her eyes brightened and she said, “Oh Mommy, can I help you?”

Wallowing in my grief, I shook my head and said, “Honey, you don’t know how to snap beans.”

She replied, “But Mom, Dee-Dee teached me how!” I did not immediately remember Dee-Dee teaching her. Kristina saw my lack of understanding and pursued her case.

She explained, “Remember Mommy? Dee-Dee was sick on her couch when she teached me.”

In an instant, my mind brought forth the memory. Just three months earlier, a couple of weeks before the cancer invaded her bones, Dee-Dee insisted that I bring a pan full of fresh green beans to her bedroom. She snapped those beans while lying on her couch, propped on one elbow. She was a skeleton; she had an oxygen tank, but she was teaching Kristina. At the time, I thought my grandmother was trying to be useful, attempting to maintain her control in an uncontrollable situation. I was wrong. She was leaving her legacy and giving Kristina her inheritance.

I said to Kristina, “Okay, honey. I forgot Dee-Dee taught you. Here, you can help me.”

She smiled and said, “Thanks, Mommy.” With that, she jumped into Dee-Dee’s chair, grabbed a handful of beans, and began to tell me about her tree-climbing adventures.

I do not cry for Dee-Dee anymore. She is still with me. Her spirit surrounds me. Her whispered wisdom breezes through me and into Kristina. There is no end to life, only continuity. And a lot of beans to snap.

Veronica Hilton

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