Monday, June 29, 2009

Green Beans

When I was a little girl, my mother worked a full time job in Salem, about a block from where my grandmother lived on East Riverside Drive.

Each summer, we stayed with Grandma. Mom would drop us off on her way to work, come to see us and eat lunch, and then pick us back up on her way back to Botetourt.

My grandmother did not drive, ever, so we walked everywhere we went.

Each Friday, we walked several blocks to Front Street, meaning my grandmother, her youngest son, Jerry, who is a year younger than I (and born on my first birthday, no less), and my brother, who is three years younger than I. Sometimes Junior, my grandmother's second-to-youngest son, went along. He is four years older than I.

The purpose of the weekly visit was to do hair. Grandma would set and roll Great Aunt Neva's hair. Sometimes she'd put in a permanent. Sometimes we were joined there by Great Aunt Susie, and she would have her hair done, too. Grandma, in turn, would have hair done by one of her sisters.

Always, Aunt Neva had a pot of green beans cooking on the stove. To this day when I smell green beans I also smell hair permanent.

For those who may not know, southern green beans simmer on the stove for HOURS. And I mean, all day.

There must be no crunch left in those suckers before they are considered edible. They are also cooked with fat back or ham, and are best if they are little greasy going down. They must have changed color from vibrant, bright, alive green to dull and dark green, too.

Today as I snapped green beans and prepared to cook them for HOURS (because that is the only way my husband will eat them), I thought of Aunt Neva and how the smell of green beans simmering in the kitchen always reminds me of her.

Aunt Neva never made it past the fourth grade, but she read every single word of The Roanoke Times, including the legals and want ads, every day. She did not miss a single advertisement or any word. I don't recall her ever reading books but she devoured the newspaper.

She was married to Sam Ellis and they had several kids. We called one Scootchie and I have never known his real name. The other was Lionel, who married Darlene, who was my mother's first cousin on her dad's side, so my mother's first cousins ended up marrying each other even though they were not related. Aunt Neva also had a daughter who teaches piano up in Radford, I think. I could be confused on that, though.

I really need to get this part of my family history.

Anyway, one of the children was Sidney. Sidney had epilepsy and he was thought to be mentally retarded. My mother said as a child he was fine but he either had a seizure that left him disabled or they gave him medication that messed him up badly. I never did not know the whole story.

Most of my Aunt Neva's life revolved around Sidney. He required a lot of attention and care and she did not hesitate to give it to him.

I don't know that I could be so selfless.

It's not Friday, but I am cooking green beans and thinking of my great aunt. My grandmother passed away two years ago, yesterday, so I am thinking of her, too.

Isn't it wonderful what food can do?


  1. I can smell those green beans from here. I love memories like that.

  2. That is a wonderful story. It's amazing how much food creates memories throughout our lives.

  3. Wonderful memories Anita. I make my grammy's green beans that way too, but with bacon and onion, sometimes I'll dice some tomatoes and add to it.
    I also had a grandma who never drove, she lived with us for most of my childhood.
    And my grandpa on my mom's side had a sister with Epilepsy too and lived with her mom all her life. I only met her one time as they lived in Minnesota.


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