Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (2/19) — Chapter Two, Bean (4/4)

THIS BEAN PLANT doesn’t seem to be suffering too much because it has had to spend all winter and so far this spring indoors at our house. It will be back outside soon enough.


BOONE, N.C. (March 15, 2020) – With this essay, I’m traveling backwards in time, as I return to August 2019 when I was working on this book’s “Bean” chapter. Remember last August? That seems like years ago, not seven months ago. And we will be traveling back to the future with my next installment.

Last August, I was just turning 60, so I wasn’t quite “elderly” yet, as health officials say I am now with the current concern over the coronavirus pandemic. Timberley and I went out to eat downtown several times to celebrate my birthday month, at Root & Vine, our “special occasion” restaurant in Morganton, and at Kin2Kin, our local “go-to” restaurant, where I lucked up and got two fortune cookies in the same package. Also, I finished planning this project, and I wrote its first two chapters, each with three parts.

FOUR FACEBOOK POSTS of mine from last August. One of my fortunes back then read: “Worry not that no one knows of you; seek to be worth knowing.”

In Part 3 of “Bean”—what I thought last August would be the last part of that chapter—I discussed my favorite “poor man’s meal,” a plate of pinto beans and cornbread. Ever since my nurse practitioner said I’m pre-diabetic—well, actually, my blood tests said that—we’ve been eating more beans, more protein, and less bread, fewer carbohydrates. And last summer we were looking forward to eating the green beans we were growing both up and down the mountain.

“Bean (Part 2)” had dealt with a sermon that our Methodist pastor had just preached about identifying people whom we hate and those who love us. I won’t rehash his whole sermon or my entire essay, but the main point of both was that people are quick to adjudge what’s bad but slower to appreciate what’s good—in our worlds, in others, and in ourselves. As an illustration, I noted that a rabbit had destroyed our bean patch in Boone. He’d nipped off every single bean plant except one bearing a single bean pod. For some reason, we hadn’t appreciated that surviving bean as we should have.

The opening section, Part 1, of that chapter had been about my desire to know beans about something, anything. In subsequent chapters, I don’t think I revealed that we did get one mess of beans from our patch in Morganton … and then a Burke County bunny followed his High Country cousin’s lead and gnawed off all our bean plants behind chicken wire. As it turned out, we didn’t know beans about good fencing. It’s called chicken wire for a really, really good reason.

A few weeks later, though, Timberley was weeding the garden plot and found one poor little bean plant that had somehow grown outside the wire enclosure and had therefore escaped the city rabbit’s grocery run. She brought the bean plant inside, transplanted it in a flower pot, and carried it upstairs to the spare bedroom that stays warm in the winter even when I set the thermostat downstairs on 58 degrees to save energy and reduce the monthly heating bill. Believe it or not, that little green bean is still alive upstairs, and it even bloomed two weeks ago. Now it’s waiting to be taken back to the bean patch once warm weather is here to stay and we fix the fence that our rascally raised-bed raider snuck through.

It’s a magic bean.

TWO WEEKS AGO the green bean plant that Timberley saved last fall and nurtured through the winter bloomed.

Come to think of it, I feel kind of like Jack today—poking my head through the clouds at the top of the beanstalk and seeing a scary new world. In this land lives a giant who smells our blood and wants to grind our bones to make his bread. We haven’t laid eyes on him just yet, but we’re toast if we’re foolish enough not to go back home while we have a chance. That giant makes all the rules. We must hope we can wait him out.

The irony of this being the third Sunday of Lent isn’t lost on me. Every hour, if not every few minutes, we’re being reminded of our mortality in the face of the coronavirus threat. And whether we choose to or not, we’re giving up more things this Lent than anyone might have imagined—anything that involves a social gathering. I’m sure I don’t need to run down the list of cancellations. Even a hundred years in the future, the reader who stumbles across this essay on whatever technology replaces the Internet will know what I’m talking about now. That’s how significant this event is. We are writing the world history texts that our descendants will read or hear, and then either learn from or ignore, as is always the case.

A couple of weeks ago, I joked that Timberley and I had given up church attendance for Lent due to a worship schedule change that we couldn’t abide. Well, I don’t mind confessing that today we broke our Lenten sacrifice by attending church from home on Facebook Live at our old time and by hearing our first full sermon this calendar year. There was no music at all. No special lighting, unless the candles on the altar and the illuminated cross on the wall behind it count. No fog machine. It was just our minister reading two scripture passages, preaching to us, “meddling” a bit, as he puts it, praying for us and with us for 50 minutes. Just a guy talking to us. We’re proud of him—even though the Baptists who don’t believe in social distancing still beat us to the restaurant at noon. Nah, we stayed home for lunch and ate hot dogs with homemade slaw.

REV. DANA MCKIM prays near the close of this morning’s live-streamed worship service from the sanctuary of Morganton’s First United Methodist Church.

Whenever our preacher says something three times, it’s really important—that’s something else he does quite often. This morning, when he recited The Lord’s Prayer with us, he repeated the “deliver us from evil” line two more times before closing the online service. Deliver us from evil. In the moment, I took that as a reference to anything bad related to the pandemic, but it occurred to me later as I mulled those words over again that the coronavirus itself isn’t the evil that we should fear most. In fact, it isn’t even evil at all; it’s nature. The real evil is what we men will do to each other or won’t do for one another when the giant in our scary new world finally corners us.

Tonight on CBS’s 60 Minutes news magazine, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo talked about the handful of nurses who, despite the risks to themselves, are caring for coronavirus victims in New Rochelle, N.Y., which is now one of the worst-hit areas of our country. “God bless them,” said the governor. “God bless them. God bless them. I marvel at their courage and dedication.” They will be the heroes in the history books that future students read.

I still don’t know beans about a lot of things. But in a world that’s quickly changing, I do know we need wise, courageous and dedicated people to show us—and tell us—what’s really, really, really important. And we need to listen.

2 thoughts on “Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (2/19) — Chapter Two, Bean (4/4)”

    1. That’s what I, too, have been thinking as we’ve watched his news conferences. He’s definitely behaving more “presidential” than Trump — but that’s certainly a low bar to step over (no jump or pole necessary in Trump’s case). Also, about pintos, our grocery stores in both Morganton and Boone are sold out of them right now.

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