Putting on the Big Boots

Picking and grinning, shelling and telling


Eight greedy beasts roamed the ground below me, watching … waiting. Like ravenous vultures, they circled, ready to pounce on anything that dropped to the ground. When something did, they raced to the spot. The winner grabbed it in her sharp beak and gobbled it down.

The beasts were part of my flock, a menagerie of normally gentle hens of every age and color. I sat in my favorite evening spot in front of the chicken coops, shelling peas. Occasionally a pea landed in the grass, and the girls scrambled for it.

I split a crisp, green pod with my thumbnail and peeled it open. Eight little green orbs plunked into the stainless-steel bowl. The sound reminded me of shelling peas around the kitchen table when I was a little girl.

It was early July. Mom had planted three long rows of Little Marvel that spring, and they were ready to be picked. She and her daughters moved down the rows, stooping to lift the vines and pluck off the plump pods. She kept an eye on us to make sure we didn’t tear the plant.

“Hold on just above the pod when you pull it off,” she instructed. “If you don’t break the vine there will be more pickings.”

As our buckets filled, we learned that we should never pick when the plants are wet, since that spreads disease.

Many hands make light work. It wasn’t long until we lugged four heaping pails into the house and dumped them in the middle of the kitchen table. Each of us found a bowl and sat down next to the green mountain. The pails waited on the floor to hold the empty pods. The sounds of shells tearing and peas dropping into bowls surrounded us.

Dad came in from the Quonset. He and the boys were getting the combine ready for oats. He smiled at his girls and pulled another chair up.

“Good crop!” Mom beamed proudly. Dorothy hurried to bring more empty bowls as Donald and Delmer walked in.

All eight of us worked on that green mountain that day, our mouths watering at the prospect of fresh peas and new potatoes for supper. Suddenly, we heard something hit the floor, bounce and roll. Mom laughed and told us her brothers’ story from a few summers back. They had the brilliant idea of using the wringer on the washing machine to shell their peas.

“They flew all over the kitchen!” We pictured peas shooting every direction as the wringer squeezed the pods. “They just swept them up when they were done. Ma didn’t think much of it.”

We envisioned our little grandma with the white bun on top of her head brushing peas off her stove and every other surface.

The mountain on our table quickly morphed into one large kettle of peas for supper, a big porcelain bowlful to can for winter and several buckets of empty pods the boys hauled to the pigs.

The chickens wandered off as I finished shelling my own measly half-bucket and looked down at the bowl in my lap. Two meals and a few to eat raw.

I shook my head, wondering if a couple bowls of peas was worth all the work and the garden space. Should I even bother with them next year? I thought of our mother, and I knew such a thought would never have entered her mind.

Eventually, the girls found roosts in their respective coops, and I tucked them in for the night. I carried the precious bowl of peas to the house and cooked them. A wonderful smell filled the kitchen as I turned off the burner. I poured in a bit of half-and-half, because that’s the way Mom made them.

I closed my eyes and savored that first spoonful of heavenly bliss. And I remembered.

Next year, I might even plant two rows!

Want to read more of Kruempel’s writing? Her newest book, Once Upon a Midwest Sunset, as well as her 5-book series, Promises to Keep, are available on Amazon.com. Once Upon a Midwest Sunset (an excellent gift of memories) is a compilation of the stories from her NOOKS AND CRANNIES column, which preceded PUTTING ON THE BIG BOOTS. Contact DeAnn at deannkruempelauthor@gmail.com


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