Fourth of July is our Nation’s birthday. I love the picnics and parades, and especially the fireworks. Fourth of July is great, especially when family and friends are close at hand. Still this time of year gets me thinking about corn. Yes, corn. This year, farmers are worried about the lack of rain around my home town. Growth is stunted. A record amount of corn went in the ground this year, and because of the drought, it is shorter than usual.
When I was a little girl, Fourth of July was picnic time, just like now. That meant all the aunts and uncles from Dad’s family got together. Fireworks were a rare treat, and parades were for city folks.
As much as they liked farming, the uncles of my childhood loved to have competitions. They had competitions about everything: who had the most kids (Dad finally won that one,) who could lose the most weight (I’ll tell you about that another time,) and who knew the most about farming. That’s where the corn came in.
Dad and Uncle Frank both did some part-time farming. They and Uncle Merle, were farmers at heart, even though they did different work, regular kind of work that all dads did, so they could put bread on the table. Farming is what put the rest of the food on the table, and a deep sense of satisfaction in their hearts.
Everybody knew that springtime was the time for planting. Planting was super-fun, ’cause for sure Dad was home, instead of working tons of overtime, fixing phones and climbing telephone poles, so his kids could have new shoes for school or new Jet-Ball sneakers for summer.
All us kids helped. Little kids took water out to people in the field. I got to drive tractor when I was nine. That’s when I was big enough to step down on the clutch and the brake without standing up. Some kids got to drive tractor when they were just five years old. Dad said that was plain foolish, and that’s how kids got killed. I never got killed, or even hurt, and I disced the fields all by myself.
Dad was the only one who plowed a field, ’cause plowing took an eagle eye. I had a hard time cutting fabric for an apron straight, so I was hopeless for plowing. The fabric part was because I never had a pair of left-handed scissors. I never figured that out until I was all grown up.
Discing was easy as mowing the lawn, except to grass and no anthills, and no stray Kleenex to run over and shred, vrooot, into tinsy pieces. In other words, discing was kind of boring. Trees on one side, rambling rose on another edge, and the barn silo off in the distance with and my house peaking out from behind the butler bin. Looking at everything through all the dust blowing up behind and around the tractor was sort of like looking at one of those paintings with blurry paints so it looks different each time you look at it. I liked the smell of dirt and dust, even if sometimes it seemed like it got up inside my nose and lasted for a week of Sundays.
I liked discing ’cause it was super quiet for thoughts to wonder around in my brain. ‘Course the tractor engine was loud as all get out. That kind of loud never interrupted thinking. That kind of loud made thinking easier, ’cause it droned out all the other kinds of interrupting sounds, like Mom giving out more jobs, and Deanna’s loud stares, and Bonita’s fake whistling going Whoo-oo-weet, whoo-oo-weet, calling her pretend horse, or giving secret Indian signals to Tommy next door.
Sometimes Dad’s regular work got in the way of planting, so it was half-way to summertime before Dad got the corn planted. The disced field just sat there waiting.
“Your corn’s gotta be knee high by the Fourth of July,” laughed Uncle Frank at a Fourth of July picnic. Dad’s corn got in late that year. Uncle Frank worked for Buick Plant, his work day was pretty steady and like clockwork, ’cause he worked in quality and just told people to stop and start over and get things right. Come to think of it, Uncle Frank was sorta like a mother, only he got paid for it.
Uncle Merle worked for Consumers Power, and Dad worked for Ma Bell. They worked tons of overtime in the spring-time, ’cause of trees going down on lines and putting telephones and electricity out.
“Yeah, well, my corn’s always knee-high. I depends on whose knee is standing in the field,” said Dad, trying to keep the right corner of his mouth down in a serious look; all the while his blue eyes sparking out a smile as clear as all get out.
“Besides, I bet you don’t have a helper like mine,” he said. I was pretty sure he was talking about me and all the discing I did for him, even if he never said so right out.
This Fourth of July, I have my flag flying proud. I’m ready for a Bar-B-Q, fireworks, and getting together with family. And I have corn on my mind. I drive by corn fields, think of aunts and uncles and cousins across the miles. I remember Dad, and Uncle Frank’s measurement for success. Yep. That corn is knee-high all right. Every darned bit of it. It’s going to be a bumper crop. And I have proof.