Pouring the beans onto the counter, the sound of them spilling and sliding and toppling over one another, I recalled my childhood and the mystery of the beans from long ago. Smiling as I begin the task at hand, I cherish the memory of my innocence and joy fills me as I recall that little girl that is now, long gone.
I would hear the sound… almost like an echo through the house and knew at once that my mother was going to make beans. My excitement was not over this meal that was coming my way, as I had long ago tired of them and really wished that this was instead, her pouring them down into the trash as we now were among the families with great money who no longer had to eat this pot of beans for days. No, that was not the reason at all. So why did I drop all toys or chores and run into the kitchen?
Looking back now, knowing how my childhood was, perhaps there was a deep desire to have this connection with my mother. Hanging out in the kitchen together, watching her prepare a meal with love and nurturing, slaving for a few hours over the pot of soup-like substance that would feed us for the next few days, growing thicker and less beanlike as the days would go on. No, that was not it even though I am now very happy to own those few cherished moments of us so “normal” back then.
I watched as her hands sorted through the beans, preparing them for soaking. I watched as she would use several fingers at a time and move them into the bowl, some to the side as discarded. I would see her concentrate and I would grow so very quiet. I didn’t want to mess up her concentration, her “counting of the beans” as I believed she was doing. I would try to count too and now and then over this process of what seemed like an hour of counting, something would distract me like a favorite commercial or a neighbor child coming out to play. I would lose track but I never asked her where we were at in the counting because I was afraid I would mess up her count as well and she would be angry. So I would just go on and count where I thought we were. When she was finished I would ask her very quietly, “How many beans today?” She would always look at me for a moment very still and puzzled and say, “A pot full.”
I wouldn’t question her further but I knew she had counted them. I could see it on her face as she did this task. I knew she knew the number but never wanted to tell me how many. Maybe she wanted me to count. Maybe it was a mystery. Sometimes I would sneak the bag out of the garbage and try to read the back for clues to how many were in there. Sometimes I would pull another full bag out of the cupboard and try to count them through the plastic. But always, each time the beans were spilled… I would come running to try all over again.
When the beans were cooked, I often would try to count the beans in my bowl as I ate them ever so slowly. Not to savor them, but to try to figure out how many beans were in that pot by how many bowls came out. My mother never spilled the beans on how many, and I never told her I truly believed she was counting them. But when I spill the beans onto the counter to sort them, not for me, but for someone that I love, I can’t help but recall those early childhood days, when even bean counting was a great mystery.