Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Corny Stories

The harsh reality of having grown up in Indiana in the eighties and early nineties, is that whether you liked it or not, corn was a daily part of life. 

I didn't grow up on a farm, but we were in the country (Mom and Dad have lived in the same house for 45 or so years), and to the east of us was a ginormous corn field.  If you looked far enough to the north and south, you could see two other massive ones. 

Surrounded, we were, on three sides by thousands of six to seven feet tall plants, which consisted of leaves (floppy green razor blades of death) and pollen (to those with allergies this is the unseen monster who rapes your senses and fills your lungs with poison).  The pollen thing was an issue for some of my siblings.  To most, like me, corn was just the stuff you watched flying by the bus windows on the way to school.  The only pain it caused was the mild twinge of embarrassment while reading about kids your age or watching them on television when the realization dawned, "Oh, right.  Not everyone grows up surrounded by corn."  That was, until at the age of fourteen, when I did what was sort of a right of passage for those my age at the time, and had been for many years previously.  I took a job detassling corn. 

Even typing those words makes me feel like I just fell into bizarro world.  I'm acutely aware that anyone outside of the midwest, or even midwesterners who were born after 1990 will think I'm telling tales of slavery or that I'm talking about the orphaned life that I lived in Ukraine.  I swear, I'm not kidding!  This was a thing!  (Other Indiana natives know about this, and even bond over it.  I remember five or six years ago when the most common method of bothering people on a computer was to send around chain emails about random crap.  I would periodically get one entitled, "You know you're from Indiana if..." and one of the entries was invariably, "Your first job was detassling"). 

So, what these soul brothers and sisters and I were doing was going out with a busload of other saps, and we would be taken to fields way out in the sticks, hither and yon.  It was a million degrees outside, and you would start down rows of corn and reach up (way up, as I'm 5'2" and the corn was much taller) and pull this seedy little thing out of the top; that is to say "de-tassle-ing" the plant.  It's something to do with male and female corn, pollination, fertilization, etc.  Basically, I was interfering with corn sex, though who notices that when the corn leaves were evil razors of death? (see above).  The fact that corn leaves cut your arms and legs is not something you think about unless you have to walk around in it, so I'm glad to report that to anyone who may be contemplating corn walking.

Another thing that you would have to do occasionally was called "rogue-ing" or getting rid of rogues.  There would be these monstrously tall and disfigured corn stalks, which were also too dark of a green, and you would go up to that freaky bastard, and cut him down at the base with the business end of a shovel.  (I am not making this up).  You do not want him sending around his weird seed to the lady corn.  (Not made up). 

The inner battle in my fourteen year old mind was, wear shorts and a t-shirt and be cut to ribbons, or wear long sleeves and jeans and melt.  Sometimes, instead of wicked rays of sun (the burning death) there would be a storm, and the valid fear of very possible lightning strikes entered your mind.  Also, when it was pouring down rain, your foot would sink down into the ground with each step, and you would go down almost to the knee.  All the while, you continued working. 

Did I mention that the day started at about 5:30 a.m. and sometimes lasted until 5:30 p.m.?  (I am not making this up).  We signed up for it, too!  It was a way to make some money without waiting until the age of 16 (how this was legal, I don't know).  Usually, this lasted several weeks in the summer, but the one and only summer I did it was short.  There was a drought that year, so crews weren't sent out until mid July, and after only three weeks of it (seemed a lot longer...see all of the above), I had marching band camp, which was its own hot nightmare at times, but seemed a breeze after the corn, my god, the corn!  Lugging around my saxophone on an un-razor-blade-filled practice field was a veritable delight.

So, I bring this up for two reasons:
  • What was your first job? was a question on Formspring, which I joined just so I could get the question asking widget somewhere to the right.  This will allow anyone to ask me something to blog about, an idea I ripped off of the fabulous Kiley.
  • Also, my dad was in the hospital this week (nothing too serious, and he's ok now).  Whenever something happens that lands him there, I think of stories that he's told me, and he told me one recently that I'd never heard before.  It's about corn, it's much shorter than mine, and I'll post it next time. 
The end of all of this is that I'm eternally grateful for my time as a child of the corn. 
  • I have worked really hard in my life, but never that hard. 
  • Any time I want to complain about my job (I have done so over the years, and continue to do so), it doesn't take me too long to remember, "But I've done worse." 
  • I've always valued every dollar I've made, since I know I could be doing some really gritty shit to get it.  A lot of people do. 
Dad's story next time.


  1. I love this story! That does sound like stepping back into the past a few years. (Sorry you have been sick!)

  2. I know, you'd think I was an old lady talking about the Great Depression!

    I'm feeling better now--thank you, dear. :)


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