(or how one Southern boy finally figured out that he ought to cut his wife some slack)
My daughter has planted tomatoes, okra, peppers, and thyme in pots out in the back yard. When I saw the potted okra, I said, “Shouldn’t that be in the ground? I don’t think okra will produce in a pot.” My statement was based upon my experience as a boy when my father planted a vegetable garden each year and got as much work out of us kids as he could finagle. He always had lots of tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, string beans, field peas, butter beans, corn, and okra. Often he would plant a little cantaloupe and watermelon just for fun.
By the end of the summer, my mom would have put up many many jars of canned tomatoes, green beans and pickles, and there would be corn and peas in the freezer. My dad’s okra, though, was serious business. There would be at least two rows of it, and it would grow up higher than my head. Picking it was an intrepid undertaking, because the plant had fine hairs all over it which could get into your skin and cause great irritation. Usually he would be the one to harvest the okra, but on at least a couple of occasions he asked me to do the okra picking.
Now you don’t just go out and pick okra any more than you would just go out and harvest honey from a hive – you must take adequate precautions. “You’ll need this butcher knife,” my father told me, “Don’t try to pick it off the stalk or you might start itching – and don’t go out there without gloves and a long sleeved shirt – otherwise that okra will surely make you itch.”
I did my best in the midsummer Alabama heat. I put on long pants which I had put away since the last day of school and had to dig through the closet to find a long sleeved shirt. Armed with a butcher knife from the kitchen and an old produce basket from Piggly Wiggly, I set out to harvest the okra. I managed to get a basket full of tender okra, just right for frying (our family didn’t go in for boiled okra). Somehow, my preparations had gone awry, however. By the time I left the garden with the okra, the heat of the day had gotten to me. I was sweating profusely, and the long sleeves and long pants didn’t help. Nor had they helped to keep out those pesky fine bristles that grew on the okra plants. I was itching all over, and nothing would get those okra hairs off. You could barely see them, and they had a way of working themselves into the skin.
I did what anyone would do when confronted by the heat, sweat, and unrelenting itching. After I deposited the okra on the porch, I ran inside to grab a hand towel to mop my sweaty face and brow. I then ran back out into the yard as if one could out run the itching. I felt as though I would explode from the inside, and I wanted to scream - maybe I did scream. (I don’t know where I left the butcher knife, which was a good thing since I was in no condition to be wielding a blade). “I’m not doing this again!” I thought. “I can live without okra – it’s not my favorite, anyway.” Maybe it was a cold shower, or perhaps it was just time that eased the sensation of okra-picking aftermath.
Years later, in one of my discussions with my wife about dealing with PMS, it occurred to me that maybe PMS was like picking okra. I related to her the incident I’ve just told here. She allowed as how it might be a reasonable facsimile, or at least she let me think that. I had resolved my problem by not picking okra. Women who live with PMS cannot resolve theirs so easily.
But back to the present day – my daughter’s okra growing is a far different experience from my father’s. That little potted okra plant puts forth blossom after blossom, each quickly turning into a nice okra pod ready for picking. All she does is walk a few feet from the back doorstep to gather enough okra to cook for dinner, with none of the ill effects I suffered. Of course, we won’t be putting up store for the winter, but neither will I be running about the yard like a mad man.