China Berry

Our supper table is just about set, I have our cracked plates, well worn utensils and fruit jars we use for drinking cow's mile, I have all set and ready. Grandma is tossing a good size slice of fried ham on each plate, I am setting out biscuits, gravy and mashed potatoes. We already have black-eyed peas on our table in a cast iron pot. This cowboy I love, my future husband, says those black-eyed peas are beans just to be ornery. I love my boy, love him madly.

Supper should be delicious as always, grandma and me are seasoned cooks. She is teaching me how to be a good wife for my boy. I tell him we are getting married, he always says, "I ain't marrying no crazy injun girl." He will, though, I have plans for the boy. A bite of mash potatoes and gravy, I realize something ain't right, tastes too salty. I mashed those potatoes, this is my fault, I say to nobody, "I put too much salt in our mashed potatoes." Grandpa looks at me, "I thought those potatoes taste a bit off." I tell him I'm sorry and this will not happen again. He says, "Relax, girl, your mashed potatoes will taste good in hog slop. Those hogs will gobble up your potatoes then we will gobble up the hogs!" He grins at me.

My cowboy nudges at me, quietly asks, "Girl, did you add salt to our black-eye peas?" I look him square in his eyes, "You keep telling me those are beans!" Grandma hears what he asked, "Taha and me never add salt to our peas or our beans." She forks some peas into her mouth, chews, "Those peas are a tad bit salty." I panic, "Grandma, I didn't put any," she cuts me off with a pat of my hand, "I know girl, you and me never add salt to our peas."

Biscuits are always in a wood bowl by grandpa, he loves biscuits and gravy. He grabs a biscuit, tears his biscuit in two, dips some gravy and eats. Presently he tells us, "Biscuits are right tasty." I ask my grandpa to pass the biscuits. He tosses biscuits instead of passing, I catch his tossed biscuit aimed at my head, I'm good at catching his flying biscuits. My biscuit tastes fine. I try our fried pork, tastes like always, a little salty as should be. We hang up sides of hog in our smoke house then salt and smoke the meat, usually stays good for many months. Our pork should be salty.

I watch this love of my life take a bite of mashed potatoes, he swallows, says, "Ain't salt!" Grandpa reaches over then fork pokes my cowboy's arm, "What are you thinking, son?" My boy shakes his head, "I'm not sure, I've tasted this before but can't quite remember." Grandpa pokes him again with his fork, "Well, start remembering." Grandma tells us, "The pork is fine, biscuits are good, leftover gravy is alright," she squeezes my hand, "Taha, drink some milk." I turn my fruit jar up and drink. "Our milk is good, tastes sweet." She wants to know if our milk is fresh, tell her, "I milked our cow this morning around sunrise."

We sit and eat around our potatoes and peas for a time. Something comes to grandma, "We boil our potatoes and peas in water. Has to be the water. Maybe our well is going sour." We all get wide-eyed worried. A well going sour is really bad news. No matter how many wells we dig, the water will still be sour. Grandpa is concerned like all of us, "I sure as Hades hope not, maybe a dumb cat fell in and drown down there in the water."

My boyfriend loudly blurts, "Water!" He startles us, we turn our heads and look at him. This cowboy of mine sheepishly blushes after realizing he was close to shouting. Grandpa gets after him again with his fork, "What about water?" My boy starts up his story, "When I was a little boy, I'm up at Hendon's standing there out front on the boardwalk watching those old boys playing checkers. One of the boys pinches up some chew, crams his snuff in a corner of his mouth. Then he reaches into his top overalls' pocket and pulls out a green pea, he puts the pea in his mouth then starts chewing. I knew he would, he always does, the old boy up and spits chew juice at my bare feet. I know to jump, he misses my feet!" I get excited, "They spit at me but they can't hit my feet anymore! Last Saturday I am up there, an old boy sees me coming, I know what he is planning to do, spit chew juice on my feet! I get up on Hendon's boardwalk, I'm watching the boy, he is quick to get two fingers to his lips and he spits fast and high. He thought I would jump straight up instead I jump sidewards, he misses!" Grandpa throws a biscuit and hits me on my chest, "Girl, you quit flapping your jaws," he pokes my boy with his fork, "now tell us about the water."

"After dodging his chew spit I ask the old boy why he put a green pea in his mouth. He laughs and tells me, 'Ain't a pea, a sweet China berry, adds a good flavor to chew!' I watch them play checkers for a bit then ask him, 'If those berries are from China, how do they get here?' Old boy looks at me then grins, 'You dumb boy, they swim!' I know better, an ocean is a lot of water to swim." This time grandpa really fork jabs this boy I love, "Damn, boy, tell me about the water!" My boy grins, "I'm getting there!" Our grandpa hits him on his head with his fork, "You flap your jaws more than," grandpa points at me with his fork, "your crazy injun girl sitting there!"

My cowboy starts up again after making a show of rubbing his head, "So the old boy reaches into his overalls' pocket and holds out a green China berry, 'Here boy, chew this, these are sweet as molasses!' I drop the berry in my mouth and chew. Tastes like mule shit!" He reaches over and rubs my back, "Sorry, girl, if we ever get married I won't curse in front of you but we're not getting married, even grandpa knows you are a crazy injun girl!" He grins at me, I tell him, "I won't care if you curse after you marry me!" Grandpa makes a lot of noise sliding his chair back, he stomps his foot on our wood plank floor making a boom like thunder, "Doggone it, tell me about the damn water!"

"Damn China berry is bitter, sour and salty, tastes terrible. I spit the berry out and darn if I don't hit the toe of the old boy's cowboy boot! I tell him," grandpa cuts him off by slapping his hands on our supper table, "What about the water!"

Billy looks around at us, "Grandpa, our peas and mashed potatoes taste like China berries," he pauses, looks down then looks to grandpa, "There's a China berry tree out front."