Stirring up memories of Washday Lima Beans

By Bill Shepard

Daddy called them “Washday Lima Beans,” Mama called them Limers and all of us called them “Good.”
There was a time when I listened to folk talking and they would say, “All we had for dinner today was lima beans and fatback meat!” They would be complaining. I would not feel sorry for those folks because that was what I had also. Of course, I did not complain.
I liked Mama’s lima beans and we ate them nearly every day when I was a boy. Today, if I heard anybody talking about eating lima beans and dried fatback meat, I would think he was bragging. And we would be! Today, you can find fried fatback meat in some of, if not most of, our finest restaurants and lima beans are a must!
This writer grew up during the Depression years and worked at a small grocery store located on Phillip Street, near the village where I lived. In those early years that I have often referred to as the awful 1930s, jobs were hard to find, money was scarce, and food was in limited supply.
The housewife would write her grocery order and send it to the store or bring it herself. I worked as a clerk at that store for nearly all my school years. The two items that were at the top of nearly every list was lima beans and fatback.
The lima beans were 10 cents per pound and the fatback meat varied between 2 cents and 5 cents per pound. A 24-pound sack of self-rising flour was less than a dollar. I could write a complete list of the items on the average grocery order from memories of that time long past.
Recently, at the beginning of the coronavirus scare, when some of our food items were scarce, I was surprised to find that lima beans were on that hard to find list. After going to several stores, I finally found one small pack and brought them home. They are in a pot, simmering on the stove, as I write.
I might even fry a piece or two of fatback to eat along with the beans when they are ready later in the day. They won’t be as good and tasty as the ones that Mama cooked during those awful ’30s, but they will be good.
Nothing seems to taste as good as it did back then. Maybe it is because I do not get as hungry as I did then. I would come home from school at the end of a long school day and Mama would have a pot of beans warming on the stove and biscuits aplenty. I would sit at the table and have a feast! So good!
I might add, there were no lunchrooms at school during those years of which I write. If one did not carry a lunch from home to eat at recess time, then anything would be good by the time he returned home. Some days, I carried a lunch and some days I did not. Mama left that up to me.
I learned a lot about living during those early years. The hard times and my parents were good teachers. Mama prepared three meals every day — breakfast, lunch, and supper. Daddy went to work every day somewhere.
If the mill was in operation only two or three days a week, Dad would pack a lunch and do work on the WPA. There were not many or any places one could turn to for help in those times. Dad always said that if a man cares for his family, he will find a way to provide for them.
By the time I was big enough or old enough, I worked to earn my own spending money. I learned the value of money and the difference it made when the money was earned.
It just seemed the money I worked for was more valuable than that which was given to me. When I was a little boy, I could sweep a neighbor’s yard, stack their firewood to dry or even split a load of slabs into stove wood that would be used in the kitchen stove.
Most women used a wood-burning stove to cook on during those times. They were called woodstoves! Anyone remember? Behind every house on the Mill Village where I grew up, one could see a wood pile.
Well, I have rambled all through those awful ’30s once again, but as hard as they were, I was given some beautiful and lifelong memories. Those were the years of my foundation! By the time I got through them, the war years of the ’40s were pointing their fingers in my direction.
I bet I have stirred a few memories and I hope they have been as pleasant as my own.

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

Author: Stephan Drew

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