This story is by L’Michelle Bleu L’Eau and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Every year, as late summer approached, the twins would spend hours scrubbing the kitchen counters until they sparkled. With precision, they would cover the countertop with layers of old, crinkled newspaper. Gertrude never ceased to be amazed by the transformation of the white flower into the yellow pods now empty of their peas.
Now, Mom scrutinized the black-eyed peas until she found the one she set aside in the old blue tin cup. The girls exchanged bewildered glances, their heads shaking in unison as they struggled to understand why this tedious tradition happened every year. Later that night, Mom would kneel and pray with the pea in the cup clutched in her hand. After her prayers, she put the pea in her tattered wallet. Seldom was there much money in that wallet, but the pea was always there. When Bereniece and Gertrude asked her why she put the black-eyed pea in her wallet, she told them; it assured they would always have money for the year.
Over time, the twins devised a rotating schedule for cleaning tasks. The twin assigned to clean the kitchen took their job seriously, diligently sanitizing every surface. They filled the air with the unmistakable smell of disinfectant. The kitchen was always clean, but Mom’s strange pea ritual puzzled them as they grew up.
Bereniece moved into the bustling city, relieved to leave behind the chores of cleaning on the farm. She found a job at a local bakery, and the steady income allowed her to cover her expenses. Gertrude, who cherished the farm life, remained at home with her parents and brother Aaron. Gertrude saved money from babysitting and house cleaning. A portion of her earnings she contributed to the running of the family household. Despite Bereniece’s absence, Gertrude witnessed her mother faithfully saving a black-eyed bean during the pea harvest every year.
The sisters missed living together and spoke often on the phone. The farm was calm until the pea harvest, their only opportunity to coordinate a visit. As the late summer sun cast its warm glow, Gertrude visited the noisy city for the weekend to see her twin.
Bereniece saved to buy extra food for her sister’s visit. The bakery owner liked her and gave her unsold leftovers. The baker berated the workers when they wasted even a smidgen of ingredients. She had set aside flour, sugar and spices not used by the stingy baker who watched his ingredients like a hawk. The night before her sister arrived, Bereniece looked around her apartment and realized she had not cleaned her small apartment in weeks. Long forgotten were the lessons of her mother to clean every day and scrub the kitchen.
Later that evening, her kitchen was sparkling as she put fresh linen on the bed. Bereniece hoped Gertrude would have fun and share with their mother that she was doing fine.
Bereniece hugged her twin on the train platform. Gertrude held her sister close, the scent of familiarity and love surrounding them both. They walked hand in hand, talking animated in their special sisterly language. “Sis, I am so glad you are here.”
“Me, too. I have missed not having you around.”
“Gertie, I wish you would consider coming to live in the city with me.” Bereniece looked closely at her sister, waiting for her response.
“I like the city, but I love life on the farm and my connection to the land. Besides, I would miss Mom and Dad, even overbearing Aaron.”
That night, Bereniece cooked dinner while Gertrude made biscuits. After dinner, drinking tea and enjoying a slice of cake from the bakery, “Bern, this cake is superb. How is it working at the bakery?”
“It’s fine. The owner is really nice to me, and so are the customers.”
“I sense a “but” in this situation. What’s going on?” Gertrude looked closely at her sister.
Bereniece refused to admit that city life didn’t live up to her expectations and instead talked about her job. “The baker is grumpy and obnoxious.”
“Grumpy, why does he pick on you?”
“He picks on everyone. He wants our measurements to be so precise that he stands next to me with his spatula, ready to level every scoop of flour or sugar.”
“Come on, that seems a little extreme. I’m sure he does it to ensure the batter is perfect to avoid any imperfections.” Gertrude nodded. “Like this delicious cake.”
“You know what, Gertie? It reminds me of how Mom always searched through the peas to pick that one special pea to be set aside in the tin cup.” Bereniece sipped her tea.
“The pea and cup?” her face scrunched.
“Think about it. We washed and sorted the peas. They all looked the same, yet Mom would search finding one pea to go into the cup that eventually ended up in her wallet.”
Putting down her cup, “the baker is the same. We scoop the flour from the bin into our measuring cups and put it into the bowl. He will look at the scoop, take it out, remeasure it and with a spatula level the extra, which may not be that much.”
“Perhaps he doesn’t want to waste the extra. Have you ever asked him why he does that?”
“No, it would be like asking Mom about the tradition of putting a pea in the tin cup,” she mused, a faint smile playing on her lips. “It’s completely illogical. There’s no rational explanation for it. Sis, does any of it make sense?” Bereniece’s words resonated with Gertrude as she listened.
“I have an idea,” Gertrude exclaimed, a mischievous grin spreading across her face.
“What kind of experiment?” her eyes narrowed reading her sister’s mind, “Please tell me you don’t want to do the pea and cup, like Mom…or measure like the older baker? No way!!”
“Bern, think about it. What do we have to lose?”
“Mom has exaggerated an old wives’ tale, or so they say.”
Six months later, the sisters got together to compare notes. Gertrude went first. “Okay, I sorted the peas and searched for that one special pea to put in a tin cup, and then that night put it in my wallet. Look, here it is, dried up. What about you Bern?”
Bereniece went to her flour tin and opened it. “Whenever I baked biscuits, I leveled off the flour with a spatula. Nothing, it’s about the same.” She tilted it so they could look inside.
They sat down and stared at one another. “Gertie, I hate to say I told you so, but because I love you,” she took her sister’s hand staring into her brown eyes, “I told you so.”
The sisters laughed. “I get it Bern, maybe it was foolish, or we missed something. Look, I wrote the similarities between Mom and the baker.” She slid the list across the table.
Bern looked at the paper. “I think they’re both old and have silly habits.”
A year had gone by and now they sat next to their brother at the reading of their mother’s Will. Mom bequeathed Aaron the farm, while Gertrude inherited the tin cup and Bereniece received the baker’s spatula.
The attorney opened an envelope, extracting the tattered wallet of their mother.
Stunned, the three looked at one another.
Bereniece asked, “Where did Mom’s tattered wallet come from?”
“Don’t ask me. I haven’t seen that in years.”
Aaron shushed them both. The lawyer continued, “Your mother left a note with her wallet.”
He read, “I’m sure it surprises you to see my tattered wallet. Every new harvest, you recall, I selected a black-eyed pea to put into the cup. That night I took the pea into my room and kneeled in prayer. I humbly prayed for a fruitful harvest, so that we may have ample resources to meet our needs and safeguard the well-being of our family. I watched each of you grow into adulthood. We were fortunate to keep our farm intact and everyone in good health. Before his death, your dad and I agreed to share the secret of the pea, tin cup, baker’s spatula, and tattered wallet with you.”
“The black-eyed pea represented the faith we had in the land. I selected one pea each year so we could plant the next year, and we always had a harvest.”
“The tin cup represented the hands of our ancestors. That precious pea sat in their hands gaining wisdom from its past until it was time to put it in the tattered wallet.”
“The spatula used by the baker represents the residue of flour we received in exchange for produce from our land.”
“The tattered wallet passed down from your great grandparents represents the soil it would need to take with it on its journey to reproduce.”
“I knelt in prayer to petition our ancestors for guidance and to intercede to the Father on our behalf.”
The siblings exchanged incredulous glances. Mom’s tradition was not a mere folklore or myth.