Sweet corn, sweet memories

Published 9:41 am Friday, July 5, 2013

The strangest thing dawned on me this morning riding to work (a 60 miles commute gives a girl plenty of time to think…): Nearly every great memory I have of summertime involves sweet corn. Once I started to recall all the times sweet corn was involved in one of these fond recollections, the floodgates just opened up and whether I was 9 years old or 39, they all brought a smile and that feeling. You know the one – when you close your eyes and remember something that made you feel good all the way to your bones and you wish you could relive those times all over again because you didn’t even know what you were missing.

That back porch, I remember, was hot. Really hot. Looking back, I’m not sure how so much got accomplished in such a little space but I realize now, it was one of the most efficient places in the world. The big tin tubs of sweet corn sat there waiting. My Grandma Lowe said “Come on now, let’s get busy. This corn isn’t going to shuck itself.” I remember thinking there must be 10,000 ears of corn in that tub and that we’d never get finished. Eventually, we did finish. Some ears were put in bags and frozen, some got sent to the kitchen to eat that night for supper and most, because my Granddaddy loved it so, were skinned right off the cobb to be fried. My brother used to laugh and say my Grandmother was the only person he’d ever seen that could skin an ear of corn and not leave one kernel behind. Those were days of bare feet, tractor rides, picking flowers and fudge ripple ice cream at night after your bath.

There’s that feeling again.

As a little kid, you wait to get “old enough to help.” Once you’re old enough, you’re not quite as interested anymore. When she said “Go upstairs and put on a loose long sleeve shirt and pants” I thought she’d lost her mind. Long sleeves in July? Clearly the heat had gotten to Weezie. Once she explained to me that the corn stalks would really itch your skin I dressed accordingly and begrudgingly headed out with her and John into the field next door and picked sweet corn. The picking part is easy. Neither John nor I liked this whole process, so we quickly decided to work together and it would be over sooner than later. The only care we had in the world was when we would be able to see the bottom of that metal tub. I remember how happy that day was. The kitchen smelled like summer, all sticky and sweet. The mason jars clinked together in the sink and I ate corn that night ‘til I had butter up to my elbows.

When you’re at the beach, which is where I have spent the Fourth of July for most of my life, sweet corn isn’t typically on your mind. That is, until Kathy Clements walked in the cottage with a bushel of it. Great. Here we go again. I cannot escape the work that lies ahead. So, off to the deck I went along with a couple of friends and we went to work. When you’re 21, you’re able to pass the time a little faster during this arduous process. You just have to be a little extra careful with the knife. Steak, shrimp and sweet corn were what we had for supper that night. I can still remember Kathy laughing at the dinner table at how we were lucky we didn’t lose a finger during that preparation process on the deck. Thinking about her always makes me smile.

I’d pick one hundred bushels of sweet corn to have just five minutes back from one of those days. I learned that time with your Grandparents is the best time, learning how to actually “do” something like put up corn, while it’s not a skill that used every day, is very important; not to mention, dressing appropriately for work. I learned that my brother and I could get through most anything together and I learned that you never forget the sound of laughter from someone you love. It’s sort of like the song about “Just Fishing” goes….All along, I thought we were just shucking.

Fast forward 20 years. They’re still growing sweet corn in Capron. It’s the week of the Fourth of July and I’m so excited about sweet corn I can hardly wait to go find my metal tub. My kids are at the age right now where a bushel of sweet corn isn’t nearly as intimidating as it will be when they’re 14 and would rather have a root canal than stand on that porch, walk through that field or sit on that deck. In the past 48 hours, I had a good friend tell me: “Go right to the field and get all you want!” and another friend who left 20 ears on my back porch late Monday afternoon. That “feeling” showed up again.

Mary Ann Clark is a Southampton County native and resident of Capron. Her email address is mclark@luckstone.com