This past week I cleaned sixteen pounds of grain by hand. It’s not that I’m a Luddite. I’m all for parsimonious use of machines, but I couldn’t get to a seed cleaner in the past few weeks what with all the smoke, evacuations, and now the grape harvest tying everyone up. So it was back to the hand for me.

How does one hand clean grain? With many buckets and wishes for wind. We transferred grains from one 5 gallon bucket to another so that the wind carried away big pieces of straw. Then, we sifted through fine sieves. And my fine fingers picked through the rest.

The finished product was wrapped up in brown paper packages tied up with strings because it’s one of someone’s favorite things. I brought the packages to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas as an offering during the Ullambana ceremony.

Food is central to Ullambana. It is the day to feed hungry ghosts. In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, ancestors of the lower realm visit the living on the fifteenth night of the seventh month. No one gets to eat in the lower realm, as retribution for their wrongful deeds in life. The tradition to feed hungry ghosts originated with the story of Mục Kiền Liên, who wanted to spare his mother who was in the lower realm, with a narrow throat and big belly that couldn’t be sated, because she was greedy. Buddha designated this day as one where all hungry ghosts could come eat, so we offer food on this day. Good thing I’m a farmer!

The Vietnamese Buddhist tradition extends the story in two ways: generosity and filial affection. All the hungry are fed, particularly the homeless. And it is also Mother’s Day, wherein express appreciation for motherhood’s selfless acts. Those whose mothers still live wear a red rose over our hearts, those with mothers who’ve passed wear a white rose.

I often go to a Vietnamese temple on Ullambana, or what we call Le Vu Lan in Vietnamese, but not this year. I didn’t get to don a red rose, but I could feign her closeness by having a long phone conversation instead. Thank goodness for telecommunications!

… Especially after all the low-tech grain cleaning and subsequent conversation to mill at the SHED. I felt like a figment of the past or a parody of the present.


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