When we were kids my dad planted sweet corn for us girls to sell. This was how we made money to purchase new clothes for school each fall. It was a relatively small plot of corn but enough to keep us busy from the end of July through most of August.
We lived along a fairly busy highway. Well, busy enough considering we were situated in north central Iowa where there isn’t a whole lot of traffic to begin with. Still we did alright.
The actual selling of the corn isn’t terribly difficult aside from the boredom of waiting for customers to pull off the road or into our driveway. I recall a few tense moments such as the time Mom made me run back out to the car because I hadn’t collected enough money from a customer or whenever folks would grumble about the high cost or what they perceived as ‘shoddy merchandise’.
Far and away the worst part was picking the stuff. I remember venturing into the cold, wet field first thing in the morning to fill the laundry baskets we used to harvest the corn. You had to peel back part of the husk to determine whether the corn was ripe enough to pick. You were looking for that creamy yellow color that folks seemed to like best. This might be a good time to mention that I never cared for sweet corn as a kid so this part of the process was something I based on others’ good judgment. (Later as an adult – thanks to some gentle prodding by my mother-in-law – I finally saw the light and now look forward to this ubiquitous Midwest summer fare!) Anyway, some of the ears had this black kind of mold or fungus growing on it. Yeah, pretty gross. There were also spiders to contend with and grasshoppers. I hated the grasshoppers. Going all spastic on you. Jumping who knows where. They kind of spooked me.
Once the baskets were filled we had to break off any extra length of the stalk or husks so that the ears were each of a manageable length so we could fill the brown paper bags for the customers to carry to their cars. Each bag held a dozen ears and we sold them for fifty cents a dozen.
We must have sold a lot of corn because there were six of us girls equally sharing the profits and I recall one summer where I had an entire twenty dollars (twenty dollars!) to myself to buy my clothes for the new school year. We went to Reuben’s Department store and one of my purchases was a brown ‘leather’ skirt and a frilly white blouse. I was not ever what you’d call one of the popular girls and I was absolutely clueless when it came to style or fashion or being trendy. Still I thought that skirt was pretty cool. Too bad I didn’t have the style or grace (or body) to pull it off. I cringe now to remember one of the older boys asking me for a date that Friday night. I couldn’t believe it! Bill Groh was asking me out! I rushed to the restroom afterward and noticed then that my slip was hanging down two or three inches below my skirt. Sigh. Junior high and high school: not the prime of my life.
In any case when I drive down a country road and come across a sweet corn stand or someone’s pickup with the tailgate loaded down with piles of corn and individually filled sacks holding a dozen ears I smile when I see ‘Sweet Corn $X.XX a dozen’. I don’t know what it’s selling for now – it hasn’t come into season just yet this year but it surely isn’t fifty cents a dozen anymore!