Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Summer of Corn

My husband served his family grilled corn and worshtishire/lemon pepper-marinated pork chops for dinner. The pork was very good, but the corn was special. Very special and sweet.

I bit the kernels off the cob with relish, digging my teeth into memories, and then I rested my mouth against the corn as I chewed, breathing in the pungent scent with joy and closing my eyes to see a field of corn behind a little square blue house in Tennessee.

I did this until My Man's odd looks cast my way across the table clutter were hard to ignore.

"What are you doing?" he asked. "It's that good, huh?"

Yes, indeed it was. But as for what I was doing? I was taking my mental raft down a familiar stream to my childhood home, and I was gazing into the wide cornfield just over the yard fence, shimmering in the evening humidity.

For many of the years I spent growing up in that house, Mr. Wellins, a neighbor and farmer, had our landlord's permission to grow corn for his cows in that field, and the stalks spread out like sentinels to the very edge of the woods beyond. The corn grew faster than more traditional varieties, and though it was meant for the cows, it was excellent people food, too.

And people food it had to be. There was one hard summer, our summer of corn, when things were not going well for our family. Money was a precious and elusive commodity, so my dad swallowed his pride and asked Mr. Wellins if we might take some corn from the field for our family.

"Of course. Of course," was the reply. "Take as much as you want."

And, so, the summer was defined by that early ripening corn. When Dad had gone to work, our mother sent us kids out each day to pluck ears off the stalks. We sat afternoon after afternoon on the decrepit back porch littered with its disused appliances, and we shucked the corn. That job was approached with apprehension, because you never knew what you would find at the end of an ear of corn. You pulled down the husk carefully, and then breathed out with relief when you saw the tip of the golden kernels. If, however, you found a head and silk blackened and gruesome with creeping worms, you screamed and pitched the corn as far as you could out into the grass of the lawn. That is, unless you were my brother Nate; then you would leap to your feet and stick the head of corn under a sister's nose, goading her into running across the grass and shouting in desperation, "Stop! No! Drop it, Nate! Gross!"

Mom stood just inside the back door at the kitchen counter, taking the corn we had shucked and precisely shearing the kernels off their cobs with a long knife. Her mouth tight, the expression on her face determined as she then pushed off the corn into bags to freeze for the fall and winter. I snuck in periodically and grabbed a handful of fresh kernels and shoved them in my mouth. Corn for cows? No, no - it was too delicious, like consuming genuine bursts of sunshine.

What happy cows to eat it fresh like that, my favorite way. We humans had it creamed with toast, sometimes roasted from the cob, in cornbread and often cooked in some larger dish. And we had it nearly every day that summer and often twice in a day. Then we had it come fall, and then in the winter...

And so, you see? It's odd that the simple pleasure of eating corn from the cob should be a pleasure for me at all. One might suppose I would turn up my nose at any type of corn, since it was a tiresome staple of my childhood, one summer in particular. Yet, it brings me joy. Not from the can, of course, but from the cob - oh, yes!

It sticks in my teeth

And it sticks in my brain

And I welcome the stroll 

Down memory lane

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