THE BRIDE has a gift for whipping up the most wonderful dinners on the fly and making it look easy, but once in a while she’ll ask me to prepare red beans and rice, a dish on the very outer limits of my culinary talent. It involves, after all, putting beans and rice in a pot and bringing it to a boil.
To be fair, it does take a few other ingredients, all of which travel well in the saddlebags. A little olive oil, salt, pepper, an onion, a few dried tomatoes…
That’s what she felt like having this Saturday evening past. She had started the beans soaking that morning.
So now I’m getting things ready to go on the stove and I say, in passing: You don’t care if the beans are full of bugs, do you?
Except she does care. Indeed, I learn that she cares about bugs in the beans more than she cares about many things.
But… there’s… bugs (and worse) in everything we eat. They may be ground up but they’re in there. Common knowledge. What difference does it make whether the bugs are in one piece and you can see them?
These were little black beetles, by the way. Weevils, I guess. A weevil is a beetle, isn’t it? Never mind…
At left, Dr. Stephen Maturin, who, on a voyage around Cape Horn, foolishly chose the greater of two weevils. Later on he gets shot. But over some other issue.
We keep a dialogue going but the bride continues to care about bugs in the beans. I offer to get a spoon and scoop out the floaters, but there’s no moving her. I can dine on infested beans, she’ll be whipping up something else for herself, thanks.
Think of the half-starved men and women lugging 75mm and 105mm guns up and over mountains to get within range of the French invader at Dien Bien Phu. They’d laugh at us fussing over bugs in the beans.
I observe, too, that no one freezing at Valley Forge would have turned up their nose. To the contrary, a little bug protein might get you through to the spring! They’d call it a godsend, bugs in the beans.
I’m disoriented by her delicate attitude, for the bride is pioneer stock through and through.
No one who campaigned with her kinsman, Col. Artemas Ward, would have flinched at bugs in the beans. Not at Fort Ticonderoga, nor in the siege of Boston after the musket brawl at Lexington and Concord.
This is true, as true as the bugs in the beans (which were delicious, by the way). The bride is descended from a great-grandfather of Artemas Ward; Deacon William Ward, an English Puritan who emigrated to Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1639.
Her ancestor, in other words, was a cousin to America’s first commander in chief.
You’re thinking George Washington was the first. Not so. When the rebellious Colonel Ward took the field against the British, Washington wasn’t even in the fight yet. He was in Philadelphia serving as a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress.
Take it from me and the bugs in the beans, our first commander in chief was Artemas Ward. Here’s his statue to prove it, on Ward Circle, in Washington, D.C.
When the Revolution broke out in April 1775, the Massachusetts militias got together and elected Ward commander in chief. Connecticut and New Hampshire quickly threw in their own citizen soldiers, under Ward’s command.
Fueled on beans almost certainly full of bugs, the New England men drove the Redcoats back to Boston. They bottled them up there while the Congress dithered and hemmed and hawed about raising a Continental Army. When it finally commissioned Washington to lead that army as America’s second commander in chief, Ward took a step back and served under him as a major general.
After the Revolution, Ward was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
For that, I must say, I do hold the bugs responsible.
Tony DePaul, December 12, 2017, Cranston, Rhode Island, USA