I called my dad as research for my book. He and my mom were in the grocery store parking lot ready to go inside.
Me: “I need to ask you a weird writer question. How many green beans fit in a handful? How many handfuls fill up a five gallon bucket?”
Dad: “I don’t ever use a five gallon bucket. I use a two gallon bucket.”
Me: “Well, whatever size you use is fine. My character is smaller than you and she probably would not use a five gallon bucket if you don’t. So I’ll make it a two gallon bucket.”
Dad: “The other day I weighed a two gallon bucket of beans and it weighed 16.5 pounds. I think a five gallon bucket would be close to 30 pounds, so someone could carry a five gallon bucket of beans. I just like to use the two gallon buckets because one heaping two gallon bucket makes exactly 7 quarts of beans.”
Me: “Either way is fine. I just need a rough estimate so my numbers aren’t way off.”
Dad: “What kind of green beans do you want to know about? Half-runners like we plant are smaller. Or are they Blue Lake? The Missouri Wonders are big and long beans and probably wouldn’t take that many to fill up a bucket.”
Me: “Whatever beans you plant, I’ll make it that.”
Dad: “If you asked me how many quart jars I can get from a bucket of beans, I could tell you that right now. But, just let me do some figuring and I can tell you. Do you need to know right now or can I get back to you?”
Me: “Sure, you can let me know whenever.”
Dad: “Do you want to talk to your mother?”
Me: “No, She can just call me back. I’ll talk to you later… bye.”
My dad likes figuring out things like this, which is good because I need the numbers. I could probably figure up an estimate after doing some Google searches, but I honestly thought he might know off the top of his head. He likes to figure out estimates and quantify his harvests. But, evidently he does that by quarts, not handfuls.
It took him an hour and ten minutes to call me back, that is with going into the grocery store and driving fifteen minutes home. He had already gathered up handfuls of beans, counted them, and counted the numbers of handfuls into the bucket. I know the question was bugging him.
Dad: “There’s 20 beans in a handful and 25 handfuls fills up a bucket. But, you know that no one picks beans like this.”
Me: “I know, but she’s just thirteen and doing it as a game to see how many she can hold as she picks them. I did that.”
Dad: “You never put them in no five gallon bucket, though.”
Me: “No, I only picked a bucket of beans by myself one time. But, I did like to count and see how many things I could fit in my hand.”
I asked him how many rows he had planted this year. He has three 50ft rows and has already given away enough beans to fill 200 quarts. He will have nearly that many left for himself, mom, and whoever visits during suppertime in the coming year.
In his mind, he adds those quarts up as money. Not in a bitter way, but in a way that says, “I am aware of how much money my work is worth. I consciously choose to make nothing on what I give away. I am not being foolish. I am being generous.”
We talked about the types of beans he raised growing up, and how they didn’t tie them up on trellises, but let them run up the corn. They didn’t put down plastic between the rows so they had to get out there and hoe it all. He sounded like he was ashamed of how they gardened because they didn’t do it the right way. And if you knew him, you would understand this to be the lens through which he views the world. There is a right way for doing everything.
I don’t know how much of the information will make its way into my story. But it was a good conversation and a good excuse to ask him about a part of his life.