Book Excerpt: Kernels of Summer

Summer’s almost over, and I wanted to post one more summer memory. I didn’t eat corn on the cob for twenty years after this. I did start eating it again a few years ago, but the impact of the sweet corn still haunts me.

I looked down at the golden-lace tablecloth, through to the green vinyl beneath it. “What are we having?” I asked.

“Spaghetti,” Mom said, “And corn.”

“Do we have sauce or are we using ketchup?” I asked.

“Sauce.”

“I don’t want any corn,” I said.

“But I boiled some for you,” she said.

“Please Mom, no,” I said.

“Well, I guess your father will eat an extra corn-on-the-cob tonight,” she said.

I used to like corn on the cob. Mom would make it, and I’d spread margarine and sprinkle salt on it and it was sweet and juicy, especially in the summer. Once mom bought some frozen corn-on-the-cob in winter and it turned the boiling water blue. That was yucky corn.

We always had fresh corn every few weeks or so in the summer. Until Dad discovered the farm stand. The first time he stopped at the farm stand on his way home from work, he bought a whole paper grocery bag full of corn-on-the-cob. The corn was all white with tiny kernels that popped when you bit into them, the juices spraying your nose. It was so sweet it felt like dessert. The butter and the salt would mix with the sweet and I thought this must be where Cracker Jacks came from. My dad said they called it “Silvertip” corn. We loved it and we had it with every meal, no matter what else we were having. Yiaya had to cut the corn off the cob because of her capped teeth but she loved it too.

The next week, Dad brought home another full paper grocery bag, before the first bag was finished. That was the eighth day in a row we’d had corn, and I was starting not to like it so much. It still tasted good, but even chocolate ice cream gets played out after eight days.

“Isn’t this great, Thina?” my dad would say. “Not like that horse corn you get at Shopwell.”

“Why is it horse corn?” I asked.

“Because it’s yellow corn, with big kernels like the kind they feed to horses.”

“Why do they feed it to horses?”

“Because it doesn’t taste very good,” he said. “Not like this,” he licked some of the butter off his corn. “You don’t even need butter on this corn,” he said.

“But you put butter on it,” I said.

“Oh, well, I did, but you don’t need it,” he said.

My mom brought us our plates. “Mom, do we have cheese?”

“Hang on a second, I’ll bring it,” she said.

“Thina, can you bring more margarine?” my dad said.

Mom put the grated Romano on the table and went back for the margarine. I shook some cheese on my spaghetti. Mom brought the margarine, put it on the table and sat down. She reached over and grabbed the salt out of Yiaya’s hand. “Mother! No alati! Your blood pressure!”

Then eho pola (I don’t have much), Thina!” Yiaya sat there looking mad.

“Thina, where’s the bread?” my father asked.

“Oh,” she slapped her hand on the table, “the bread.” She got up to get it, cut it, brought it back to the table. I was halfway through my spaghetti and my dad was on his second piece of corn.

“Have some corn,” my dad said.

“I don’t want any,” I said.

“Why not? It’s delicious,” Dad said.

“We’ve been eating it every day. I’m sick of it,” I said.

“Oh, how could you get sick of this corn?” he said.

“I just am.”

“You’re missing out,” he said.

“I’m sure we’ll have it again,” I said.

When fall came, my dad came home with a big bag of apples. I used to eat apples, before he brought home grocery bags full of Red Delicious. Sometimes he brought cider and doughnuts. I never got tired of those. But the apples, yuck. We never ran out of apples. We always had a basket of them on top of the dryer in the laundry room. We kept the potatoes there too. Since we rarely ran the dryer, we used it as our “cool, dry place” to store fruits and vegetables. The beginning of apple season meant more than just an influx of Delicious apples. Apples symbolized the definitive end of summer. I loved the bright reds, yellows and oranges of fall, but if there was some way I could have put them off, I’d have kept eating that damn Silvertip corn every single day.