“Let’s you and me go pick us a few bucketfuls of pecans.”
I’d never picked pecans before, but it sounded like a good time. My Grandfather said he’d already picked a few gallons himself, and being that he was well into his 80’s at the time, I considered that a feat. It’s nothing that wasn’t already becoming of him, but even so, it was a strong thing to hear him say.
We hopped into his old truck, slamming the doors shut, metal against metal. It was a blue pickup with a full bed cover that ran parallel to the cab. He’d had it for as long as I’d known.
We drove a few minutes up the road and came out on the highway just a minute or two from the church lot where my Grandparents attended, which also happened to be where the pecan trees were. It was cold out, and Thanksgiving was on its way, which meant that most of the leaves had already fallen. The ability to identify trees has always been something I’ve admired, but it’s an art I didn’t pay as much mind to then. Seeing them all dark and bare of leaves, save the evergreens, it was strange to me to think that there were so many differences about them. I didn’t know how anyone could tell one from another, but somehow my Grandfather managed to do it. He could point them out: Walnut, Oak, Maple, Locust, Hackberry, and so on. He pointed out some black walnuts on the ground, which helped me to know where some of the Walnut trees were. He told me how they used to grind up the walnut shells to mix in with their sawdust when they fired their tobacco. He said it always gave it a good-looking finish.
When we came up on the pecan trees, he picked a few up with his tool that he’d grabbed out of his truck. It was a long pole with a wire basket on the end that picked up the pecans when he pushed it over them. We’d brought a few buckets out with us, and he showed me what the good ones looked like and told me not to fool with the ones that the squirrels had gotten into, or the ones that still had the green husk stuck to them.
There were several on the ground, but his main intention at first was to shake the branches. The trees were tall, and the branches were much too high to grab, so he’d brought a long rope with a metal tool tied to one end of it.
“Watch out now,” he said. “These branches ain’t got no sap in them, so they’ll break real easy.”
Then, I watched as he, in all his 80 something year old glory, threw the metal end of the rope high into the air and over across one limb after another, shaking whatever pecans would come from each one. They hit the ground with light thuds, and we picked them up and filled the buckets, brushing away the leaves and tossing the cracked ones.
After a while, a man walked over from just up the road. He and my Grandfather seemed to know each other well enough, and the man seemed interested in getting a few pecans also. At first he talked to my Grandfather about who knows what, watching him shake the branches and occasionally reaching down to fill his shirt pocket with a few. The only problem is that they fell out each time he bent over for more. After a time, he decided to just buy a few from us.
We picked for a while longer, and in time, my Grandfather gave me the rope and let me try my hand at tossing and shaking. The toss, as I learned, took a bit more skill than I had expected, but it came soon enough, and I shook a few branches myself.
My Grandfather remembers what happened next more than I do. Perhaps it was my youthful vigor in shaking the branches. Or, perhaps it was simply a weak branch. I couldn’t say. I couldn’t even say how large the branch was, but my Grandfather seems to remember it being large enough to matter. Anyhow, somewhere in my shaking, I felt a different feeling on the branch’s end. One moment, I felt the stiff resistance of the branch, another moment, nothing.
Had the branch landed any closer to me, I’m sure I would remember even less. But somehow, that weak branch, which at that moment took on the role of a widow maker, fell to the ground just a step or two away from my head.
“If that thing had hit you, I liked to have fallen over right there,” my Grandfather says when he recalls that moment.
When I think back on it, I realize how oblivious I was to it. I greatly prefer his telling of the story, because in my mind, there was never any harm. But such was the time in my life, and even in his retelling, I look back on the time with fondness. I have no doubts as to whether or not we left that day with several bucketfuls as he had intended for us to do, because I know that his basement housed several gallons in the days that followed.
There will never be a pecan pie to match the ones that came from those days.