Notes from the Porch

A Sure Cure for What Ails You

Make a list of the things you like — with or without shelling peas

By Bill Thompson

When I was growing up I did not like shelling peas. It was one of those summer chores that I was assigned that just had no appeal for me. Now, as I look back on those times, I have a revised opinion. I still don’t like shelling peas, but I do like the memory of the times I spent at that task with Mama as we sat out on the porch or on a swing under the shade of a big pecan tree in the backyard. She knew that I would rather be somewhere else, doing something more exciting. So, to get me into a more positive mood, she would make up a game. The idea was to see who could come up with the most things we liked.

Recently, I have gone through a spell that has severely challenged my positivity: the loss of my mother and other people close to me, watching the nightly news, trying to get a new book manuscript done on time, and a bout with pneumonia. So, when I was thinking about my mother’s passing, I recalled the game we played and decided I needed to try her negativity remedy . . . without the peas.

Here’s my list so far:

I like family. I like having people around who care about me even when I do stupid stuff, who share a common background, who remember me when I was “William.” I like family reunions where we all get together and tell the same old stories and listen to our aunts describe the complexity of our family tree. It gives me a sense of belonging to a unique group of people, a group unlike any other because we are individually a part of it together. As our family grew, Mama said our heart was always big enough for one more.

I like music . . . all kinds except hard rock. I like small church choirs singing familiar hymns on Sunday morning and community choirs singing Handel’s Messiah at Christmas. I like to sit on the back porch with my friends playing guitar and singing old Peter, Paul and Mary songs. I like to hear the gospel songs coming from the black church just down the road, feel that excitement and emotion echoing across the field to my house. I like to hear the high school bands play in the parades. I like to listen to the Metropolitan Opera on the radio on Saturday afternoons. I like to sit with my sister at the piano and go through the old sheet music of the ’40s, show tunes, and pop music of the ’50s. I like the sound of a solo banjo being played by the old man down at the store.

I like laughter. I like to look at some of the absurdities of our life that are so outlandish that laughter is the only explanation for their existence. I have to laugh when the man in the barbershop asked for hair tonic to grow hair on his dog, when I see a young man wearing a parka with the hood pulled up against the winter wind and also wearing a pair of shorts. I like to go to meetings where folks greet each other with a smile, to parties where we tell jokes on each other. I like to read the humor of witty authors and I still call the comics “the funny paper.”

I like warm fires in winter and cool breezes in the summer. I like to sit in front of a fireplace and watch the flames turn to embers. I like to sit on the porch in the cool of a summer evening, watch the lightning bugs flicker and the mist fall on the fields.

I like animals. I like to go out to the barn and listen to the horses eat, smell the hay. I like the feel of the horse beneath me as I ride through the pastures and woods in the quiet of the evening. I like the unmatched excitement as I feel the power of a horse galloping, the hoofs beating out a rhythm unmatched by any other creature. I like the peaceful feeling I get when my dog puts his big head in my lap as we sit under a tree and listen to the birds. I like to sit horseback and watch black cattle graze.

I like today. The sun is shining after a morning rain. I like the smell of the new-mowed lawn. I like the smell of the charcoal grill and the taste of fresh brewed sweet tea. I like the quiet, the absence of traffic on the usually busy highway in front of my house.

I can’t remember ever winning or losing at the Like Game Mama made up. We always ran out of peas before we ran out of likes.

There are still a lot of things I don’t like. But I can’t think of them right now. Mama was right again. 

Bill Thompson is a regular Salt contributor. His newest novel, Chasing Jubal, is available wherever books are sold.

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