I didn’t think much about these photos when I first took them. I walked in the front door of Nini and Granddaddy’s house, the door that leads into the living room where they were both sitting, the air stale and so thick that you swear you can almost see it. It was a sight I’ve been familiar with my entire life, blue pails grabbed from the hospital stock room resting crookedly in their lap with a 2 gallon bucket placed strategically in between two of them, but closer to Nini, so she wouldn’t have to reach as far when she discarded the hulls.
You see, shelling peas was something we did as a family almost every weekend. There were no words for how much I hated it. Most weekends, there would be a big bucket of unshelled peas on the concrete slab out back. Granddaddy would wake up early and go out to the garden to pick before I’d even finished breakfast. After lunch, blue pans were passed around and we’d sit and shell. And we’d talk. Oh, how I complained. I couldn’t imagine why we were sitting around, mindlessly fumbling with these “Culverhouse peas,” when we could be outside riding the four-wheeler, playing house, swinging, or playing ring toss. For every one pea I shelled, Dad or Granddaddy would have shelled dozens – I’d usually toss the contents of mine to the dog. I viewed it as a punishment and a chore and usually spent more time complaining than actually shelling. But we’d all shell – Nini, Granddaddy, Dad, and Mom – until the bucket was empty and our pails were full – so we’d have something green on our table come supper time.
I snapped a few frames yesterday as I bent down to hug them. Nini made a comment about how I didn’t need to take her picture, that she hadn’t rolled her hair. I told her I was just photographing her hands, and she said she couldn’t imagine why I’d want a picture of her old, ugly hands.
I thought to myself that they were the most beautiful hands I’d ever seen. There were so many reasons I’d want a photo of her hands. They were the same hands that held me as a baby. The hands that scratched my back every night , sometimes for over an hour, so I could fall asleep in my pink bedroom that Granddaddy had painted for me as a surprise. The hands that I held walking into the Dollar General on Friday mornings. Hands that held the newspaper comics every Sunday afternoon, as we’d crawl into her chair together and read them each out loud. Hands that moved marbles on the Chinese Checker board, hands that cooked me daily breakfasts of baconeggsgritsandtoast (yep, all one word), hands that held bubblegum, but only if I picked the correct one. Hands that I reached for when I felt scared, sad, or broken. Hands that my parents would have to pry me from every Sunday evening, as we would leave Butler.
We’d get into our car and blow the horn twice after taking a left out of their gravel drive. I’d see the shadow of their figures on the front porch, their hands outstretched, waving us goodbye until the next weekend. I remember feeling like my world fell apart every Sunday night and wouldn’t be whole again until we’d return to them on Friday. We’d go around the town square in Butler on our way back to our house and I’d watch as the clock tower got smaller and smaller in the distance as we drove away. I’d keep my eyes on it until it completely disappeared from sight – only when I was sure I couldn’t see it anymore would I turn around. I’d miss them every second I was away.
I was driving to Macon today when I thought back to the photos and began to cry. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t upset or lonely. It’s just I thought back to the last time I’d shelled peas. I couldn’t remember when it was.
I realized I don’t remember what it feels like to live without my mind being elsewhere. I’m never fully present or engaged – always thinking about what I should be doing. Always packing my days full of things to do. Always working. Always browsing through Facebook on my phone. Always texting a friend or a client. Always finding a way to make more money. Or to spend more money. When was the last time I sat down and did something as simple as shelling peas? I can tell you it’s been a long time. Even if I did, wouldn’t I be thinking of all the things I needed to get done instead?
I took such a simple thing for granted. A thing I hated so much when I was younger – I’d give anything to be able to feel that free again. When shelling peas was my biggest annoyance.
As I drove away from my grandparent’s house yesterday, I blew my horn twice. I glanced over and saw Granddaddy standing alone on the front porch, with his hand up, waving goodbye. That old familiar feeling crept back in and I took a deep breath so I wouldn’t cry. It had been a long time since I’d been still enough to feel the pain of missing them. I’d made peach puffs with Nini and didn’t think about the 12 sessions and 2 weddings still left to edit. I fed the fish with Granddaddy and didn’t think about an inbox full of e-mails. We sat around the table, just the three of us, and ate dinner without the first thought or mention of the things that weigh down on us. So when I drove off yesterday, I knew I’d miss them every second until I saw them again. But it felt good, too. I knew, if just for a few minutes that day, I’d been able to capture what it felt like to be that little brown-haired girl whose biggest problem was having a bucket of peas to shell.