The writer’s new home came with a commandment from her grandmother: Plant a garden. And with the matriarchal directive came one more gift: seeds from a green bean plant that has fed the family for more than 180 years.
When I was in my 30s, I moved from the small community of Carcassonne, Kentucky, to the town of Whitesburg to live in the house that my husband’s grandparents built in 1920. When my grandmother, Ruby Haynes Caudill (born in 1917) saw my big yard, she pronounced “With a place big enough to grow a garden, it would be a sin not to have one.”
Along with the responsibility of planting a garden, my Granny Ruby also offered me some green bean seeds that she had been growing for years. I eagerly accepted. Her beans were the highlight of most every family meal. She usually cooked them fresh from the garden or canned them, but called them drying beans because they were good to dry for shucky beans. Drying beans was a good way to preserve them before refrigeration was available. Now we cook the dried beans at Thanksgiving or Christmas as an extra special treat.
Granny Ruby, now 97 years old, had already given me so much. As a child she taught me to raise a garden. She demonstrated how to plant various vegetables, showing me the spacing and depth for each one. She has always timed her planting by the Farmer’s Almanac and still calls to tell me when it’s a good time to plant.
When she gave me the green bean seed, Granny Ruby also shared the story of how this plant came to be in my family – passed down through the generations, usually at the time children married and started raising and feeding their own families.
Granny Ruby had been growing the beans since the first spring after she married my grandfather, Clifton Forester Caudill (born 1913) at the age of 16. She planted her beans for the first time in 1934.
Granny Ruby and Clifton built a house at Carcassonne, Kentucky, deep in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. Their new house was near the home of my grandfather’s parents. Granny Ruby and Clifton had five children within eight years. They always raised large gardens and stored food for the winter. When I was a kid, I remember going into their cellar and seeing countless shelves filled with Mason jars of green beans, corn, kraut, pickled beets and lots of other treasures. There were also plenty of boxes of potatoes and onions.
Granny Ruby received the bean seeds from her mother, Katherine (born 1895) and father, Will Haynes (born 1878). Katherine and Will married in 1914 and bought a small farm on lower Bull Creek, Kentucky, had 10 children and raised them on garden food, livestock and hard work.
Katharine, or Grandma Haynes, as we called her, was an excellent cook. She had a wood-burning cookstove in her kitchen as well as an electric one. She preferred the wood stove. I have very fond memories of her scalded cornbread. She used home-ground cornmeal that she would add a little baking soda to and then pour in boiling water and bake it in the wood stove. She had a stroke a few years before her death at age 96 and wasn’t able to live on her own. So she came to stay with Granny Ruby. Even though she had to use a walker to get around, she still helped clear the table after dinner. She always said she told her kids, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”
Grandma Haynes received the green bean seed in 1914 from her mother- and father-in-law, Elizabeth Middleton Haynes (b. 1860) and Christopher Columbus Haynes (b. 1855). Christopher and Elizabeth married in 1875, had 11 children, and lived at Craft’s Colley in Letcher County, Kentucky. Granny Ruby tells stories about riding the train from Blackey to Whitesburg in the 1920s to visit her grandmother Elizabeth, who lived a few miles from the train station. Today, it’s nothing to drive the 17 miles from Blackey to Whitesburg. But in the 1920s Grandma Haynes only made the trip a few times because they couldn’t leave their farm for too long. Elizabeth came to Bull Creek a few times to visit her daughter-in-law and son, as well. Granny Ruby said Elizabeth smoked a pipe, and she and her brothers and sisters would race to the fireplace to be the first one to offer Elizabeth a small piece of wood from the fire to light her pipe.
Elizabeth and Christopher received the bean seed from Christopher’s mother, Catherine Cox Haynes (b. 1832). Christopher’s father was Joseph Haynes (b.1834) of Surry, North Carolina. They married in 1854 and had three children. Joseph joined the Union Army as a Corporal in Company C, 39th Infantry Regiment in Peach Orchard, Kentucky, on October 10, 1862. He was killed in the Battle of Cynthiana on June 12, 1864, during General John Hunt Morgan’s last raid on Kentucky.
Catherine and Joseph received the bean seed from his parents, Susan Phipps Haynes (b.1818) and Robert Haynes (b. 1815) soon after they married in 1854. Robert was born in Bean Shoals, North Carolina, near Pilot Mountain, on the Piedmont side of the Appalachians. Bean Shoals was the site of a failed canal project in 1820. Susan was born in Ashe, North Carolina. They later moved to Wise County, Virginia. Robert and Susan married in 1833 and had 12 children.
I’m the seventh generation of my family to grow the same green beans. My four children (eighth generation) and two grandchildren (ninth generation) help with the gardening. They recognize that it is an honor to get to plant the family beans every spring.
That is what I have always wanted for them: to know and respect who they are and where they come from and to know the importance of raising your own food and taking care of your family.
This summer I attended the Katherine and Will Haynes family reunion at the Carcassonne Community Center. I took a big pot of the green beans for the potluck dinner. I also took a few bags of seed beans to give to cousins and aunts and uncles. It was a great feeling to share a meal with my Haynes family, eating the same beans that our ancestors have shared for at least 181 years.
Teresa Collins grew up in Carcassonne, Kentucky, and lives in Whitesburg. She works for the Center for Rural Strategies, which publishes the Daily Yonder.