Peas And People


“Our full humanity is contingent on our hospitality; we can be complete only when we are giving something away; when we sit at the table and pass the peas to the person next to us we see that person in a whole new way.”–Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse.

There are a couple different routes this blog can take; I decided to make it about peas.

Why? Because… hospitality. Two peas in a pod. I know a number of folks who really dislike peas. They happen to be one of my favorite vegetables, so I never really understood that.

If I remember correctly, my mom doesn’t like peas either, which is interesting because she made us eat them.

Every summer we’d tend the garden of Ernest and Hazel, who lived in a shack a mile down the road from our house. He was our Santa Claus janitor with white wire-brush hair,  a bristled mustache, and a voice that landed somewhere between a hog call and a strangle. Hazel sat in her house dress with a long, slack face and flappy underarms. They had tiny dogs (Rags and ChiChi) that shook, barked, shed and peed, in the house. The tumbledown place was overgrown with wild roses, gourd vines, apple trees and a meandering cement path. Ernest painted. Hazel baked. their dogs shook, and barked, and shed and peed. And us? we visited, and tended the garden.

We’d hoe the beans and peas, tall meandering plants that climbed up poles, and onto strings pinioned between them. Some days, we’d drink our fill out of the garden hose and eat raw snapped peas and beans right from the shrubs. We’d also grow corn and tomatoes, which never did very well due to the temperate climate, but beans and peas, we had plenty of them.

We’d take huge paper grocery bags of the peas home, where my mother would prepare them for home-canning in Mason jars. Eventually, once they were prepared, they’d end up in the cabinet downstairs, or even back at Ernest and Hazel’s place, after we had made them ready for eating.

So, why is this about hospitality? My mother always whispered, “Don’t eat anything Hazel gives you. It’s probably full of dog hair! Her house is so dirty!” She’s right. The whole place smelled like urine, and possibly not all of it was from the dogs. We’d have a cookie on occasion, but only the store-bought kinds. We’d put nothing in our mouths if Hazel actually made it.

Ernest painted landscapes. He liked vivid colors–orange and red sunsets over the ocean that made the world look aflame. We had one of his paintings in our house for a number of years. It wasn’t the best thing ever, but…. my point is, he gave it to us. Something he made, and probably put dozens of hours into producing. Not necessarily in exchange for peas, although that probably lent itself, but because we may have been the only people to pay them any attention. They were old; I don’t know where their family was–I think maybe a son in Brookings. Every once in awhile, a cow would step on their water line, and disrupt the water going into their house. My dad would trek down there, sometimes in torrential rains in the dark, and fix their water. Turned out, we weren’t just neighbors; we were sort of their family too.

But now I’m rambling. I guess what I’m saying is this: it’s all about the peas. Hospitality and peas. It brings people together; people you never would have known in any other way. It seems to me that peas turn people into neighbors, and neighbors into family.

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