Read by Pat and Becky Stone
My family,” says my mom, Elizabeth.
“Desserts,” says my Aunt Anne.
“The breeze,” says my father, Lee, with eleven green beans in his hand.
“Air-conditioning,” says my youngest sister, Jean, as she gets up to bring water to the group.
“The last bucket of beans,” I mumble while swapping out a full five-gallon bucket for an empty one.
When I was a child, the sound of green beans snapping filled much of Summer and early Fall. With those never-ending buckets of beans came the Thankful Game. It’s a game my Aunt Anne created more than 20 years ago for her own kids. The goal is to say one thing that you’re thankful for while helping to snap 20 or more gallons of green beans. The turn to say something went around the circle of bean snappers.
The Thankful Game was, to me, a dreaded activity. The sweltering Midwest heat and humidity made everything you touched seem to stick to your body. Even the thought of moving seemed to make sweat materialize out of the air. Not to mention that bean-snapping only occurred after the beans had been picked in that same hot weather.
Once the beans were picked and the lawn chairs placed, the snapping began.
As it continued, my younger sister, Angela, would get distracted by playing with our dogs, or both of my sisters would run inside to grab a water bottle or the home phone—and embrace a few moments in the air-conditioning. Meanwhile I kept snapping, at a third of the rate of my dad or my uncle. Still, with each passing minute, the bean buckets would slowly empty.
To make this hot, monotonous chore even worse, we played the Thankful Game. In my childhood mindset, I found this to be the most miserable way to spend time while bean-snapping. Not only was I extremely hot and bored, I had to think of things that I was thankful for, while trying not to repeat what other people said. I’d rather have been weeding the garden or cleaning the house—anything to get out of playing the Thankful Game.
After all, there are only so many obvious things to be thankful for! So, as the bean buckets slowly dwindled, I had to come up with more and more creative responses.
“I’m thankful that one day frost will kill all the beans.”
“I’m thankful Dad can snap beans really fast.”
“I’m thankful that cloud there looks like a chicken.”
The responses would get longer and more elaborate. Creativity was at its peak when the final 50 beans were snapped.
I remember one afternoon when it was around 95 degrees, and we were supposed to be going on a trip to see some of our extended family in Kentucky. Instead of packing, we were at my Aunt Anne’s house helping her snap green beans for canning later. In that moment, I did not want to snap beans and talk about what I was thankful for. I would rather have been packing my suitcase to see my aunt and uncle in Kentucky. However, Aunt Anne needed help, so we were at her house, snapping and playing the Thankful Game. During that afternoon, I found out that my dad and his eight siblings would get a candy bar if they would go outside for an hour after lunch during the Summer, so my grandma could watch her soaps. I found out that my uncles wouldn’t let my aunts into their treehouse. I heard about the feisty neighborhood Wiffle ball games of the past. All of these stories came out during the Thankful Game, and they only appeared when the more creative answers started up. Had we not played the Thankful Game, I don’t know how many family stories I would have missed!
Looking back and reflecting on this chore that I desperately hated, I miss it in a weird way. Sure, it may have been hot. Sure, sometimes it seemed like there was a truck-bed full of green beans to snap. And sure, we had to play a silly game. But I got to see (and eat) the results of my hard work. I got to spend meaningful time with people I care about. I made wonderful memories of people like Grandpa Clarence and Uncle Martin, who have since passed away.
The Thankful Game partly shaped me into the person I am today and helped me learn to appreciate everyday life. If someone were to ask now if I would do it again, I would say “Yes!” in a heartbeat. Well, as long as I had plenty of water and sunscreen.
And I know the first three things I would say.
“Green beans.” Snap.
“Time with family.” Snap.
“The Thankful Game.” Snap. ❖
This article was published originally in 2023, in GreenPrints Issue #137.