by Lorna Kerin Beall
“Ugh,” “Ick,” and “Eww,” Nana's grandchildren responded when she told them how her family survived on wormy beans one hard Minnesota winter when she was a child. Nana smacked her lips, "Yum! Protein!" I wasn’t so shocked. After all, didn’t they normally eat weird things like pickled pigs feet, and pig brains (that went by the name of headcheese?) I’d even heard that they, as well as my own family, ate rattlesnakes!
Little did I know at the time that wormy beans would play such a big part in the middle-grade novel I would someday write. “The Wormy Bean Winter," is based on real-life events of my Finnish American family. Though, as my husband Richard likes to point out, it was his side of the family who actually ate the wormy beans!
In a card promoting my manuscript, I included the synopsis, “Kata didn’t realize that something as tiny as a wormy bean could be the difference between disaster and survival. While homesteading on the South Dakota prairie during the harsh winter of 1919, her family was barely surviving on their last bag of beans. When they discovered they were eating beans infested with worms, Pappa went to work in a copper mine leaving 12-year-old Kata in charge of the outdoor chores in the bitter cold. What was worse was that Papa’s confidence in Kate was bean-sized, too. She had to prove her sisu, the Finnish word for guts and determination, while she faced challenges like her baby sister’s ear nearly freezing off, vicious old “Three-Toes” the wolf, and all her sisters’ refusal to eat the wormy beans even if it meant starvation!”
I loved writing the book and coming to know more about my family. And I am so thankful for the humor, sisu and faith that both our families had when they helped settle this wild and wondrous country.