In Américo Parédes's short story “The Hammon and the Beans,” the narrator is looking back to the days of his childhood when he and his family lived in the small Texas town Jonesville-on-the-Grande in the 1920s.
The story's opening words, “Once we lived...” give us some important clues about the nature of the story. First, they set the story in the past. The narrator lived in his hometown and in the circumstances described in the story in the past, but he no longer does. He is writing from a future time and looking back on the events and experiences he relates. We know, too, that when people remember, they always partly interpret their memories based on their current situations. The stories of the past are colored by the present.
These words also show us that the narrator is not the star of the story. He speaks of “we,” meaning his family but perhaps more broadly also his community. This is a story about relationships, about interactions between people, about their customs and trials and challenges. It is a story about interconnections between individuals, not just individuals isolated and alone.
The word “lived” in the introduction suggests that the story will focus on the daily lives of the narrator's family and community. It will talk about their home, the way they typically spend their time, and their normal existence. It will provide insight into the way these people live and think all the time rather than focusing on outstanding or rare events.
Finally, the words “Once we lived...” hint toward the traditional opening of a fairytale, “Once upon a time...” This story is not a fairytale, but perhaps as the narrator looks back on his life, it has begun to seem a little unreal to him. Time has put something of a gloss on the past. While it was very much real, it is now tinged with a bit of a dream as the narrator looks at it through the lens of the present.