Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Job's Tears

This week when I was writing the blog post on sumac,
I went rummaging through some boxes of naturals
that I had collected from my parents'  farm and places that I had lived.
I thought I had saved some clusters of dried sumac berries
and was determined to find them.

But I must have heeded my own advice 
about how difficult it is to keep sumac berries together 
and tossed them out at some point.
So I didn't find sumac berries,
but I did find a few more relics of past harvests.

In the boxes I found birch bark, 
cotton from a cotton field in the Arkansas delta,
dried milkweed pods, gourds, and
silvered maple leaves from the trees that still stand around my parents'  former home;
also sweet gum seed pods from my mother-in-law's home, 
and pine cones from my grandfather's tiny forest of Christmas trees,
trees that are now gone, gathered into the dust of time.

I actually hadn't remembered what I had in those boxes,
but there was only one thing that really surprised me:
a gallon-sized bag of Job's tears:

Job's tears are seeds from a relatively unknown grass plant
called coix lacryma-jobi, the variety stenocarp.
Wikiepedia.org, "job's tears" search, 
shows a photo of the Job's tears still on the plant.
The seeds are hard with easily hollowed centers.
They are also very smooth and beautiful.

My maternal grandmother used to grow Job's tears 
along the north side of her house.
Every autumn, after the leaves had turned brown and the seeds had burst forth,
she would cut the plants down and harvest the seeds by threshing the plants.
Then during winter evenings, 
she would make beautiful prayer beads for family and friends. 
I always enjoyed the times I could sit beside her 
and watch her hands as she transformed the seeds into a rosary
using only chain, findings, and some pliers.

I made this necklace several years ago 
from some of my grandmother's harvested Job's tears:

Decades after she passed away, 
I was living in a house that had no trees around it, 
affording me great amounts of full sun
--the direct opposite of where I am now, which has all shade and no sun--
so I decided to grow Job's tears 
and learn to make prayer beads like my grandmother had. 
 I learned to make them quite well.

But I am afraid I am not as hardy as my grandmother.
Harvesting Job's tears is labor-intensive and messy work,
perhaps a task better suited for wide open spaces than for suburbia.
And really, I just did not enjoy it much.

So after my last harvest, I baked them in a cool oven for the requisite time
 (to discourage bugs) and then stuffed them into a plastic bag.
I put the bag in a box of naturals where it has remained for nearly twenty years.
And when I opened the box this week, 
the Job's tears had changed from light shades of gray
to darker shades of gray, brown, white and ivory--very pretty.

I don't know if I will ever get around to doing anything with the Job's tears I have saved.
I would like to, of course.
But like a lot of people, I get swept into the rush of daily activities 
that demand so much of our time.
 And I may only find enough time to put them in a pretty glass container.
Sometimes, we just have to decide that doing the little things is enough.

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