Life’s full of ‘nutty’ moments

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It’s funny how a brown nut can be a thread running through your life, sharing its story with yours. I thought about that as I sat cracking pecans on a cool fall night.

For a few weeks I’ve been picking up pecans, something I hadn’t done in while, and the first time I knelt down to scoop a handful off the ground, memories came in a flood.

When I was a child, the field behind my grandmother’s house was a pecan orchard, and talk of how the trees “made” each year was part of a fall visit to her house. She discussed what they brought per pound when they sold and when it was impossible for her to gather them herself, she talked about hiring someone to pick them up on halves with her.

Of course the talk was not as interesting as eating the toasted and sugared pecans that sat on the buffet in her dining room. I am back in that place and time every time I taste a salty toasted pecan.

Harvesting the crop from the pecan trees in my childhood backyard is not what I remember. Rather it is smell of the burning leaves after a Saturday spent sweeping them into piles. Even now when smoke from a leaf fire fills the air, I re-live the cool of a late fall afternoon as my brothers, sisters and I played around a pile of smoldering leaves, laughing and throwing in pines cones and twigs hoping to keep the fire alive for a while longer.

There was also a connection to pecans and our neighbor, Mr. Tom, who had a business buying and selling them. A trip to his big warehouse was an adventure. I liked seeing bags filled with nuts stacked on top of each other. I listened to discussions of the pros and cons of different varieties, Stuarts versus Elliotts, the ease of cracking paper shells and how much buyers paid per pound for each type.

Then, when I was a young mother, picking them up was a serious business. The four or five trees in the yard of my first house were a source of extra income at a time when every penny was important. I smile, remembering my three babies crawling around under those trees searching for hidden pecans with as much as excitement as hunting for Easter eggs.

Seeing bags filling with nuts, I calculated how much they might bring when we sold them. And after a trip to Mr. Tom’s, we used a bit of the profits to buy the kids a treat, something that didn’t happen often with finances tight.

Later when my life took another turn, I found myself dating a man who worked at a pecan plant. What started as a friendship deepened and led to marriage. In those early days more than 20 years ago, I discovered how they graded pecans and the process that took place after I sold them.

When the season might peak, what kind of pecan year it was and the quality of the crop were suppertime topics. The nuts became less of a key ingredient in my favorite pie and more of a commodity that played a role in our income.

These thoughts rolled around in my head as I cracked the shells, popping a couple of the crunchy meats into my mouth and putting the rest into the bowl in my lap. Funny the things that weave through our lives, giving it texture and depth and triggering memories that make us smile.

In fact, if you think about that, it’s downright nutty …