How the lima bean saved the world
Editor’s note: This column first appeared in 2016.
By Bill Shepard
The little bean that saved the world! Tom Brokaw, in his book “The Greatest Generation,” gives credit to the young men of that period of our history as being the savior of our world from Nazism. I think we should give credit to the little lima bean that saved that generation from starvation! During the Great Depression, the 1920s and 1930s, it was the lima bean and fatback meat that came to the rescue and kept a generation of folk alive! This writer has vivid memories of those years. Starvation walked the land like a hungry wolf and there was little help to be found anywhere! World War I had left the world in chaos. Soldiers, seeking help, camped out on the White House lawn, and bread lines filled with hungry people were common. I can recall standing in my front yard and counting the hoboes riding the freight trains that passed along the Atlantic Coastline track, by the house where I spent the first 10 years of my life. Those men were in search of a job that was impossible to find. I was a fortunate child; my Dad had a job at the big cotton mill in Darlington. The mill managed to stay alive, at least part time. Credit at the big company owned store, and Dad’s part-time job kept us alive! The days when the mill was closed, Dad found work on the WPA. That, in itself, is another story. I could not tell you the number of times that I heard the line, “All we have to eat at our house is lima beans and fatback meat!” The speakers were not bragging, but they were complaining. Today, if I heard someone speaking that line, I would accuse them of bragging. Yes, Mr. Brokaw, let’s give credit where it is due. The young men who survived that period in history went on to defeat Nazism and save the world during World War II. During a part of that ugly period in our history, I worked as a clerk in a small store that was near the village where I lived. We sold a lot of lima beans and fatback meat. Lima beans sold for 5 cents or 10 cents a pound, depending on the size! The baby lima was the cheaper one, and I’ve never known why. Mama always cooked the smaller one. Maybe because it was cheaper! The large lima beans were referred to as “pocket books” and “baby ears” – anyone remember? Fatback meat and lima beans complement each other like apple pie and ice cream! In today’s world, if you are overheard talking about having lima beans and fatback for dinner, you run the risk of being called a “braggart”! I take that risk often. Recently, while in a doctor’s waiting room, I was overheard telling how good lima beans and fatback is. The doctor overheard and called out, “Leave the fatback off!” I called back, “Not so, Doctor, I am over 90 years old and I owe my life to the lima bean and fatback meat!” Could anyone in today’s world believe that fatback meat once sold for as little as 2 cents per pound? As a boy, working in that store that I have mentioned in this article, I must have cut and wrapped hundreds of pounds of fatback. It was not uncommon to sell a whole slab of fatback weighing as much as 10 pounds and costing only 20 cents! It happened many times when I was a boy. I could write on, bragging about my favorite meal, but I think I have presented my case. I think we should give honor where honor is due. I have long proposed that a large bronze lima bean, mounted on a slab of white stone, to resemble a piece of fatback meat, deserves a spot on every courthouse lawn in America! It was the pair that won the war against starvation, during the Great Depression. Bill Shepard’s fourth book and his first children’s book has been published. Shepard and his family worked with an illustrator from Charleston to turn his mostly true story that he wrote nearly 50 years ago into a chapter book for kids. The book, “Fugi’s Great Adventure,” is $14.99 and is available from Amazon. You can order autographed copies from Shepard for $14.99 postpaid. Send orders to Bill Shepard, 324 Sunny Lane, Piedmont, SC 29673.