Samantha Perry

Samantha Perry

The green beans snap with the sound of late summer. In one swift motion, the string is pulled and it is broken into pieces. Freckled hands above a silver bowl resting on a worn apron perform the repetitive motion. It’s harvest time and all are busy.

I rush into the kitchen with dirty bare feet and red hair flying. After a quick kiss to my Grandma’s cheek, I grab a handful of beans and begin “stringing.” I may be pre-kindergarten, but I know the ritual.

Mom is at the stove stirring up a batch of butter gravy. She looks at my feet and raises an eyebrow. Ladylike manners are important in our family, but at age 5, I embody anything but charm.

Out of respect, I attempt to hide my grimy toes under the kitchen chair. It’s useless. Mom sees all. Soon, I am ordered into the bathroom for a thorough scrubbing. I emerge fresh, pink and dirt free. I steal another quick kiss from Granny, who is still stringing beans.

She smiles as her arthritic bones continue to snap the green veggies.

It’s a southern lady’s way of life.

Three months later, the green beans canned in August are brought back into the kitchen. For 12 weeks or so they have been stored in the canned fruit room, the small cubby at the end of the hallway in our basement.

I have no clue where the name “canned fruit room” originated. I assume it was passed down from the Italians from whom my family bought the house. In my lifetime, it was used to house canned goods preserved from the summer garden. Tomatoes, beans, corn and more resided there – alongside bulk-size containers of condiments purchased from the local warehouse club. (One can never have too much ketchup, right?)

As cool autumn nights settle over the region, the shelves light up with summer’s freshness. Amid the glare of a stark light bulb, the Mason jars pop with color and cry out to hungry diners. No need to open a manufactured, packaged can when the bounty from our backyard garden stands like a newly crowned beauty queen on a pageant stage.

The smell of sage overwhelms the room as the pan of homemade stuffing is readied for the oven. I am a teenager, and still uncomfortable in the kitchen – but wise enough to wear a pair of white Keds to hide my dirty feet. At age 16, I still have a penchant for running around barefoot, but I have learned enough to know when it is wise to don footwear.

Per tradition, Mom is busy at the stove while Granny prepares side dishes. While Thanksgiving bubbles on the range, I hear the strains of Elton John calling from the basement. Dad is working on his latest project and “Tiny Dancer” is his companion. I squirm while waiting to be excused. Bernie Taupin is calling.

I am useless in the domesticated role. “Can I go now ... Pleeeeaasse!”

Three decades later, I am fighting with a Thanksgiving turkey in the early morning holiday hours. Why, I wonder, am I forced to pull packets of “turkey gunk” out of a bird’s cavity in this modern era?

Can someone not sell an innard-free bird?

With much pulling and tugging, I finally release the commercially packed bag of gizzards from my Thanksgiving turkey. I quickly wrap it in aluminum foil and toss the package in the freezer to await trash day.

There’s a half hour of my life I’ll never get back.

The shelves in the canned fruit room are empty. We do not have the time to grow a garden or preserve fresh veggies. Our green beans come from the Jolly Green Giant.

And on Thanksgiving, I am a prepackaged cook instead of a homemade one.

Boxes of ready-to-make goods line my pantry – instant mashed potatoes, Stovetop Stuffing and peas allegedly picked during their prime. I doubt they are as fresh as the ones I enjoyed as a child, but I allow myself to buy into the marketing hype.

Mom and Granny would have been embarrassed to serve such fare. They did it right, embodying the from-scratch method of cooking. I wish I had their skills.

Instead, I will cook a turkey in a bag (a fail-safe method for noncooks like me) and add tons of extra butter and salt to my boxed fare. I may also undertake a sweet potato casserole, simply because it’s hard to mess up a dish that doesn’t involve much more than mixing together sweet potatoes, various sugars and pecans.

I will also pull out the good dinnerware and linen napkins.

It will all seem a bit fancy for my instant food, but it’s how I was raised.

Thanksgiving should be special.

Midway through the meal, I am sure I will think of my mother and grandmother, and wish I was tasting homemade mashed potatoes and vegetables grown in West Virginia soil.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph, in Bluefield, West Virginia. Contact her at Follow her @BDTPerry.

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