Slim pickin’s in the gene pool

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 12, 2009

Some things in life, I’ve just naturally picked up.

But not pecans.

Deep down in my family gene pool is the desire to stoop over, pick up a nut and put it in a bucket with the idea of receiving some type of monetary compensation for the effort.

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Mama had the desire. Daddy didn’t.

So I reckon the desire came from my Scotch Irish ancestry, not from the dwellers by the cold well.

Either way, picking up pecans is one pleasure that I’ve missed out on.

Early in my childhood, picking up pecans was a tradition that usually started on Thanksgiving Day as a way to earn a little money to buy Christmas presents.

Mama had two ways.

In the spring, she bought a pig to raise to sale in the fall for her Christmas money. Pigs are cute but they grow up to be hogs and hogs are ugly and mean. Why, a hog will root you right up a tree. That’s where I would go when our ol’ hog would get after me.

Mama kept the slop bucket on the stove and we’d scrape our plates into it after every meal. Then, at night, it was my chore to slop the hog.

Sometimes the ol’ hog would just lie there in its waller and grunt. Other times, it would snort and growl and try to root me in the ground. That’s when I’d scurry up the chinaberry tree that grew right inside the hog pen.

I had a favorite place in that ol’ tree and I’d cozy down and watch the sun drop out of the sky in blazing colors. I’d stay until Mama called me to come in the house. I could see her silhouetted in the back door and I’d run to the warmth of home. So, slopping the hog was not a bad thing.

But, when Mama put on her “ol’ head rag,” as she called it, and tucked it in the back of her coat, I knew what was coming – picking up pecans.

Mama said pecans lying on the ground were just like money waiting to be picked up.

I didn’t see it that way.

There was nothing fun about picking up pecans so that was the one bad thing about Thanksgiving Day. We’d all get out there with buckets and stoop and crawl and near about freeze to death picking up what Mama called money.

Pecans won’t do you the favor of falling all at one time. Nope. They “divvy” down’ day after day, and drag out the drudgery of the chore.

Sometimes Pop, my granddaddy would bring hands from the feed mill to shake the trees. Most of them were young men that could climb the trees and jump on the limbs and make the pecans fall like a hailstorm. When the limbs were too high or too weak to climb, the young men would take stout bamboo poles and knock the pecans down.

We stayed out from under the trees when all the jumping and shaking were going on but, when they started knocking the pecans down with poles, we ventured back under the trees.

Those who doubt global warming, never picked up pecans during my childhood days.

Why, it was so cold your fingers and toes would turn blue, your ear lobs and nose would turn to chunks of ice and your breath would freeze, crack and fall to the ground.

So, we didn’t waste any time getting back under the trees.

The faster we picked up the pecans, the quicker we could get back in the house.

Now, when the young men were knocking down the pecans, often times the falling nuts would conk us right in the head.

I’ve still got permanent scars from where I was pelted with pecans when I was a little girl.

I didn’t know until lately that it wasn’t by chance that those pecans knocked me in the head.

Haisten Harris confessed to me that he and the other young men took great pleasure in throwing pecans at us.

“We’d throw the pecans and try to hit y’all in the head,” he said, laughing.

I couldn’t believe that a little, skinny, knock-kneed, frizzy headed girl was a prime target.

At the community Thanksgiving service this year, Haisten reminded me of that and we laughed at the memory of those times in the pecan orchard.

And, I’m reminded of the time my son stood his ground beneath the pecan tree.

We rented property from Mrs. Tom Conner with the full understanding that we could not pick up one single pecan that fell from the trees.

Just to make sure, she was there to catch the pecans in a bucket as they fell from the trees.

My children were playing in the backyard and she crouched nearby in a catch position.

Suddenly, I heard a rap on the door.

“Come out here,” she yelled. “Your boy’s calling me names.”

I ran and found my little fair-haired boy staring her down.

“What did he say to you?”

“He called me Miss Pea-conner.”

I thought that was kind of cleaver for a five-year-old but I assured her that he meant no disrespect.

All of those thoughts crossed my mind last week as I sighed at the sight of pecans – money – littering the ground.

And, it was an odd thing, but I had this strong desire to take Mama’s ol’ head rag that I keep hanging by the kitchen door, put it on my head and get out there to picking up pe-cans.

Maybe my gene pool is deeper than I thought.

Jaine Treadwell is the features editor of The Messenger. She can be reached at