A Corny Tale


It all started with a post on Facebook, showing how your average American doesn’t know how to shuck corn. If you were from Iowa in the 60’s, then you know how. We weren’t well off. As a matter of fact, people would give us bags of food, like homegrown apples, tomatoes, or corn. Our job as kids was to lay out the newspaper, pull off the husks, and peel off the silk. Our mom would take it, rinse it, boil it, and in twenty minutes, we’d have a feast.

Some people prefer to cut the corn off the cob. It’s good for kids with braces. But we were too poor for that. The dentist told my mom to have me hold a Popsicle stick against my crooked tooth every night to get it to straighten out. Now that’s poor! There were five kids, so nobody had their teeth straightened, except with wooden summer treat handles.

My grandmother cut the corn off the cob and served it in a thin cream sauce — the best creamed corn ever!  Fresh corn, not canned. We were in heaven at Sunday dinner at her house.

My Nebraska friends, Doc and Lillian, would have me over from time to time for dinner. I was the single school teacher, and they were the parents of my landlord, who was on the school board. Doc took a shine to me, and Lillian went along with it. They served a stick of margarine on a plate on the oilcloth table top and invited me to dip my hot cob of corn right in it.

That’s not the way we did it at my grandparents’ house, but when in Rome . .  .

After high school I met a guy who worked for Pioneer Seed Corn. We dated a little, and he got me an interview for a summer job. I was on a crew of three while the b.f. was the clown on a much larger crew. It was probably a good thing that we weren’t put on the same one. He was a flirt-around.

We three girls put our hair up under red bandannas and wore tank tops and the shortest of shorts. We had to wear tennis shoes, so we had a real farmer’s tan at our ankles.

The two girls on my crew were very protective of me. When I had my wisdom teeth pulled and it hurt the next day to hoe the weeds (every whack shot up to my jaw) between the corn rows, they got our boss to give me a different job to do. One crew mate named Patty got mono for most of the summer after that.

Every day our tasks would vary. Sometimes we would put paper bags over the ear of corn with its silk hanging out. The silk was the female corn organ, and the tassel was the male corn organ. We had to cover up the silk if we wanted to control the pollination.

Cross pollinating corn is putting a bag over the tassel and shaking off the male pollen. Our job was to take the large bag of pollen, carry it by hand to the silken ear we wished to pollinate, and shake it over the silk after we removed the small paper bag. Then we put the small bag back over the silk.

Sometimes there would be white smut growing on an ear of corn, so we would skip that one. No good. Funny how smut also means other things.

Sometimes I’d turn down a corn row, concentrating on putting bags on the silk ears, which were waist high, and I’d look up just in time to see a huge spider web stretching from row to row, with a huge spider in the center.

“Ahhhhhhggggg!” I’d scream, and the crew mates would call out from other rows, “Are you okay?”

We had no phones, no head sets, no ear buds, nothing to keep us occupied, so we had to talk to each other. Even though I don’t remember those girls or what they looked like, I do remember them being nice and how we compared our tans each week to see who had the best one.

Patty had a boyfriend (how she got mono?), but I didn’t really, just the college boy who looked to be enjoying himself on the other crew of mostly girls.

My family went on vacation and left me home alone so that I could work. One night the sky turned yellow, and the tornado sirens went off. I stood on the porch looking to the sky. Then I went down to the basement with the dog and waited it out.

The tornado hit Adel that night  (I was in Urbandale). The next day we went out to inspect our boss’s fields. They had been stripped of everything. All that work was gone.

Corn memories.  Oh, one more! When I took popcorn to my host family in Spain, the woman looked at it and said in Spanish, “Corn is for pigs!” She was a you-know-what. Europeans didn’t eat corn the way Americans did back then. As far as I know they still don’t.

Nothing GMO in Europe.

Maíz in some parts of the Spanish world, elote in other parts.

A corny post.

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