Espaliered tree


              In their garden, at the end of the season, a father and his adopted son are picking the dry husks of bean pods from what is left of their crop.  The father is selecting some for seed.  The thinnest beans were tender and sweet.  Should he save seeds from those plants, plant them next year, select for those traits?  If he can’t keep up with the beans next year, as he couldn’t this year, perhaps he should select the beans with the largest seeds, the ones he can boil up into the white kidney beans that most green bean seeds, if left to dry in their pods, will become.  Or maybe he should plant both, two rows side by side, one to eat, one to go to seed.  Or will they cross-pollinate, ruining his strategy?  For what does he know about selection and genes and traits?  He is no Thomas Jefferson, no Mendel, experimenting with the seven dominant traits of peas.
            No, this father is pretending he knows what he is doing, his new son helping him husk the thick skins of the pods from the nearly-dried, mottled beans inside.  When he says, “Let’s save that one for next year,” his small son dutifully puts it in the small paper bag.  To the boy they are as magical as Jack’s beans, for who really knows what they contain?  The father has brought out a bigger bag for those beans they’ll boil up, stretching their stews and soups, accompanying their barbecues, giving them protein and fiber.  How much protein, how much fiber?  The father doesn’t know.
            He and his son sort through the small hill of beans they’ve picked from the dying plants.  They will work for over an hour, and the son will want to quit.  But the father will not let him.  “We finish what we start,” he says, nodding.
            His son nods, too, with the same gesture of determination, even though he doesn’t feel determined.
            “We don’t want to waste these beans, do we?” asks the father.
            “No,” says the son.
            “We’re gardeners,” says the father.
            “We’re gardeners,” repeats the son.
            They hunch over the pile of beans, strip the pods from the seeds, work in unison, sometimes sighing together, sometimes showing each other the funny shapes and laughing, sometimes throwing the pod skins into the wind to watch them float away.  They concentrate, they sort, they make their way to the bottom of the heap.
            They are two peas in a pod.

"Genetics" first appeared in Soundings East








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