It’s the birthday of my BFF (best fiction friend) Mary Frances today. I think her “P is For Peas” chapter in An Alphabet for Gourmets is one of the most perfect things ever written (along with the opening of Out of Africa, some Michael Cunningham, some Tolstoy, and all of To The Lighthouse).
Here’s part of Mary Frances’ essay, which describes an outdoor celebration in the summer mountains. You can think of it as you celebrate your own Fourth of July, with or without peas. Have a good one and for the love of god, please don’t start any wildfires. I’ll be posting again on Monday.
I dashed up and down the steep terraces with the baskets [of shelled peas], and my mother would groan and then hum happily when another one appeared, and below I could hear my father and our friends cursing just as happily at their wry backs and their aching thighs, while the peas came off their stems and into the baskets with a small sound audible in that still, high air, so many hundred feet above the distant and completely silent Leman. It was suddenly almost twilight. The last sunlight on the Dents du Midi was fire-rosy, with immeasurable coldness in it.
…We raced through the rest of the shelling, and then while we ate rolled prosciutto and drank Swiss bitters or brandy-and-soda or sherry, according to our habits, I dashed like an eighteenth-century courier on a secret mission of utmost military importance, the pot cautiously braced in front of me, to the little hearth.
…I looked up at the terrace…There sat most of the people in the world I loved, in a thin light that was pink with alpenglow, blue with a veil of pine smoke from the hearth Their voices sang with a certain remoteness into the clear air, and suddenly from across the curve of the Lower Corniche a cow in Monsieur Rogivue’s orchard moved her head among the meadow flowers and shook her bell into a slow, melodious counterpoint, a kind of hymn. My father lifted up his head at the sweet sound and then, his fists all stained with green-pea juice, said passionately, “God, but I feel good!” I felt near to tears.