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I remember numb thumbs and ‘mm-hmms’

Purple thumb peas.

That’s just as good a name for those delectable legumes as purple hull. If you’ve ever shelled a mess of them by hand, you know exactly what I mean.

It’s been at least a dozen years since I shelled peas by hand. These days I just buy them in the frozen foods section of the grocery store. Unless, of course, someone is kind enough to share their garden’s bounty with me, and every time that has happened in recent memory the peas have already been shelled.

When I think of shelling peas, the outside edges of my thumbs start to feel funny — like I’m starting to lose feeling from the tip down to the first knuckle from repeatedly splitting pea pods open. And I hear the plink-plink of hard peas hitting the inside of a metal bowl or wash basin, or the softer click-click as they pile up on each other.

I can feel the heft of the bowl as it fills up slowly, and smell the unique aroma of discarded shells, remembering the feel of the pods as I gather them up to put them wherever they needed to go — maybe the slop bucket for the neighbor’s pigs. Hey, if it helps make more bacon to cook with the peas …

Ah, the memories. I close my eyes and I’m instantly in northeast Mississippi.

As I walk between the corn stalks in Granddaddy’s garden with him, I try to step where he stepped, eye-level with the pockets on the back of his overalls, run my fingers along the leaves on the stalks like I see him doing. I see the sun shine under his right arm as he checks the ears to see if they’re ripe for picking. I want to grab an ear and pull down on it, hearing and feeling the snap as it pops off the stalk, so I can smell the fresh raw corn and run the silks peeking out of the top of the ear along the palm of my hand. But Granddaddy has already warned me not to touch the ears unless he says so. So I don’t.

Then he points to a smaller ear that I can reach and says to pick that one. I snap it down and off and look up at his face — eyes framed in squared black glasses, a hint of stubble on his cheeks, a drop of snuff juice in the corner of his smiling mouth.

I loved being entrusted to pick something in his garden. I even enjoyed shucking the corn and snapping off the remaining stalk from the bottom of the cob. But I did not like pulling all the silks off the corn. I inevitably missed some. Seems like a toothbrush was involved in gently removing them.

I love fresh vegetables, especially those grown in one’s own garden. I don’t live where I can have a garden now, and part of me really misses that. Then a muscle in my back twitches and I remember how much work it is, and I don’t miss it quite as much.

What I really miss are the voices.

I miss Grandmother’s voice as we sat on the steps and shelled peas. Whether she was talking to my mother about cooking or which neighbor’s grandchild was ailing, or telling me to go back over those ears and get the rest of those silks off. Nobody wants silks between their teeth at the supper table.

I miss the chuckles and “mm-hmms” from my grandfather as he patiently listened to the ramblings of a kid whose mouth worked faster than his feet as it tried to keep up with all the rabbits running through his mind.

One day I’ll see them again, I know it. I have a master’s degree in theology and such, which means I know roughly as much as any other Christian about God and what heaven will be like.

I don’t know if we’ll have fresh corn and peas there, or if we’ll be shellin’ and silkin’, but we’ll get to walk, and talk, and ask questions and tell stories. We’ll talk about how good God is and get to tell him to his face.

This week, I’m going to continue to look forward to that day, and do my best to get some corn and purple thumb peas.

Mm-hmm.

Brett Campbell can be reached at brett.campbell@dailyleader.com or 601-265-5307.