Corn's On!

What will you do or did you do on your 70th birthday? At dusk on the eve of Dad’s 70th birthday, Will, Liam and I were helping Dad pick sweet corn.  We would be “doing corn” the next day, on his birthday.  In the corn patch, which was probably 100 yards long and 20 rows deep, Dad picked corn and filled 5-gallon buckets while I couriered full buckets to the Chevy S-10 and emptied them into the truck-bed.

The corn stalks shot way over our heads and were thick enough to hide Dad in the middle.  I followed his voice to find him and exchange my empties for his full buckets.

The boys and I over-exaggerated the steps we took over the electric fence. It lined the perimeter of the corn patch and was about 6 inches off the ground. The fence stopped the raccoons from entering the patch. If a raccoon family had a midnight feast, then invited their friends to come the next night and the next, a good chunk of corn would be stripped from the stalks in a matter of a couple days.

Shortly, this conversation between Farm Dad and City Girl ensued:

“How many buckets have you emptied?” Dad asked. “I don’t know, maybe 8 – 12,” I guessed. “Haven’t you been counting?” he asked. Then a flashback: yes, for some reason, I should’ve been counting. “No.” “You haven’t been counting?” “No, you didn’t tell me to count.” “We always count, so Mom has enough for 100 pints.” “Oh… well, I haven’t done this in 15 years – I guess I needed a reminder to count.”  Then good-naturedly, "Why, Linda Kay... I can't believe you didn't count."

At dusk...we had more than enough for 100 pints.  We had a truck-load.

 It sat in the drive overnight, and early the next 70th-birthday-morning, Dad and I started husking corn...

...and the boys joined us.

 Amateur corn-picker that I was had dumped corn haphazardly into the truck-bed covering the whole thing. Soon realizing I had goofed up the shucking system a bit, I reshuffled all the corn to the back of the truck to where we could reach it, making room to toss the corn husks and silks to the front of the bed.

“I bet I’m the only one in my school who has done this!” Will said, as we filled the coolers with corn.

Four coolers of corn on the cob equal 100 pints of corn kernels for the freezer. Once we had lined the coolers up in the dining room, Dad’s job had ended for the time being, and Mom took over.

Mom and I lined the kitchen table and floor with newspaper, and set up a de-silking station on one end of the table and an area to cut the corn off the cob at the other end.

Maureen, Mom’s friend since high school, arrived with her grandson and the setting was complete. It was time to “do corn.” The three boys used dish towels to brush off the corn silks... Maureen, Mom and I could start stripping kernels off the cobs.

The magic soon wore off the de-silking process. The boys took breaks when there was nowhere to pile the silk-free corn and came back when we called them. They were all such troopers finishing the de-silking, it was tough going at times, but they did it.

I had seen those piles through the eyes of a 7- and 9-year-old. I remember vegetables and fruit that needed to be cleaned, stemmed, broken, cut-up – they were monstrous. Here, much like walking beans, was the true-grit of farming. Of growing and freezing our own food.  Of sticking to a task until it was finished.

Mom’s job shifted once we had big pans of kernels. They needed to be blanched for three minutes...spread out to cool in front of the fan, then loaded into pint-size freezer bags that were labeled with “2013.”

Maureen and I kept cutting as Mom followed the circuit of those final processing tasks.  Aunt Alison arrived later in the afternoon, "I heard you were doing corn.  I thought I would come up and help."  Aunt Alison stepped into the blanching, cooling, bagging circuit with Mom.

Towards the end of the afternoon, Liam walked through the kitchen. “BLAH! YUCK! What did I step in???” Ah, yes, that feeling of sweet, sticky corn milk on the bottom of your foot and the dragging of newspaper along with you as you try to walk away from it.  My “doing corn” memory and his “doing corn” experience were now complete!

“Mom, there just aren’t many kids who have done this, right?" Will asked again.  "We picked it, husked it, cleaned it and bagged it! We did it all from beginning to end!”

Having the "corn on” during our Iowa summer visit was a gift to this Farm Girl and her family.

Happy 70th, Dad.

(Yet another hot, humid summer memory... When the headlights came looking for me.)