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Don#8217;t eat the green peanuts

There it was…the tell-tale dust cloud and accompanying sweet smell of the soil that sent my mind wandering back to a much simpler time of life.

The sun was slowly dipping into the western horizon on Monday evening as I made my way to Windsor to cover the Bertie County Board of Commissioners.

As I traveled along U.S. 13 about a mile or two south of Powellsville, I noticed what is an annual sighting here in northeastern North Carolina. A huge plume of dust appeared frozen in the air as, in a nearby field, a tractor slowly inched forward with a peanut picker in tow.

It was apparent that this particular farmer n either Kent Williams or his father, Kendred, since I knew they till the soil in this particular location n was making an attempt to beat Tuesday’s wet weather by working as long as it took to harvest this field of goobers.

Ah, the sweet smell of harvested peanuts…there’s perhaps no other odor quite like it.

My mind drifted back to childhood. Born and raised on a Northampton County farm, harvesting peanuts in early to mid October meant that cold weather was right around the corner.

Harvesting that particular crop also signaled another tradition n the North Carolina State Fair. One could almost set their watch on the peanut harvest coinciding with the State Fair. That still holds true today as the Fair began in Raleigh this past Friday.

I remember being in the peanut field as a boy. My job during the hot summer months was to walk the field and pull weeds. Then, during harvest time, me and Bunky Johnson (my cousin, my neighbor and my best friend growing up) would find a way just to be kids. Our elders would try to find us something to do, mostly collect and stack the peanut poles. Back then, peanuts were dug and then stacked on poles to dry. The stacks were then taken to a peanut harvester sitting stationary in the field.

Sitting a stone’s throw away from my home place was a peanut buying station. Me and Bunky would “hang around” that facility, sometimes lending a helping hand to empty the peanut trailers. The most fun was sneaking into the big warehouse that contained huge bins of peanuts waiting to be bagged. We would run up and down the pile of peanuts. To us, it appeared to be a “goober mountain.”

But the best part was eating all the peanuts our stomachs could handle. Eating the green ones (not quite completely dried) were delicious, but they would cause a bad belly ache.

Since the buying station was so close to my house, it was a nightly occurrence to fall asleep to the sound of the fans (dryers) blowing warm air into the peanut trailers.

How could I hear that, you may ask? Well, back then, we did not have the luxury of an air-conditioned home. Instead, my mom and dad’s home had a big fan positioned in a wall on an enclosed back porch. At night, dad would ease up all the windows an inch or two and cut on the fan, thus creating a draft of cool air. The sound of the peanut dyers playing their sweet music coupled with the cool, crisp night air was better than any sleep aid you can purchase today.

What…you grew-up with no air conditioner in your home? Yep, that’s right. We also managed to live without computers, e-mail, cell phones, blackberries (the electronic gadget, not those sweet berries that grew wild and made for a delicious pie), DVD’s and video games. Also, we enjoyed the three channels we were fortunate to receive on our black-and-white TV.

The fall harvest also meant one other thing…parched peanuts. My dad, God rest his soul, wasn’t a cook, but the man really enjoyed parching peanuts. I can still envision him shelling peanuts and placing those tasty, plump goobers onto a long baking pan, sticking that into the oven (yes, we did have an electric oven; I’m not old enough to remember cooking over an open fire) and occasionally stirring his masterpiece until they were golden brown. There’s nothing better than hot, parched peanuts, straight from the oven.

And we didn’t buy the peanuts from a store. We didn’t have to….we were surrounded by peanut fields.

Just as I was on Monday night heading to Windsor where the smell of peanuts being harvested brought back a flood of memories.