Corn Field Time Machine

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“Hey, go out and see if there’s enough corn for dinner,” I said to my 15 year old. The fact that there was even corn to be harvested in our garden made me smile. Corn had been a large part of the landscape of my Illinois childhood. My hometown, Bloomington-Normal, was an island surrounded by a sea of corn.

Children of the Corn

For the first eight or so years of my life we had a cornfield behind our house. No fence of any kind marked the boundary, our lawn just ended and the cornfield began. There is a childhood movie of my brother hugging me as I cried with fear as a big, loud combine harvested the corn a mere 30 feet from the swing set. And by the way, those childhood fears were confirmed watching Frank, in the movie Cars, seek revenge on Mater and Lighting McQueen for their tractor tipping antics. Those combines were definitely machines to run away from.

Cash Crop

Corn provided summer jobs for hundreds of teens, compliments of Funk Bros. Seed Company. It was called “detasseling” and involved walking through fields of corn pulling the tassel from the top of the stalk. It had something to with do making sure the right corn was pollinated for whatever hybrid was being worked on by the corn whisperers at Funks. This job was a rite of passage of sorts. Labor laws were a bit lax so it seemed like anyone tall enough to reach the tassel could get a job. It was not for everyone. The work was physical and done in the heat and humidity of a Midwest summer. There were those of us who decided that farm life was not to our liking and moved on to babysitting until old enough for fast food.

Calendar by Corn

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To take a drive anywhere outside of town meant a flat road flanked by cornfields. “Knee-high by the 4th of July” is the phrase I remember as a way to judge the success of the year’s crop. Green ribbons perfectly lined up side by side like an agricultural marching band. You knew how much of your summer vacation was gone by the height of the corn stalks. In the winter the same fields were brown and barren with the pattern rows of raised dirt where the stalks had been.

A Familiar Landscape

All of this brings me around to the backyard corn harvest. Having lived in California for 30 years I didn’t realize how accustomed I’d become to the landscape. Brown in the summer, green in the winter. Hills, grapevines and a backyard orange tree that provides us with fruit in December. But looking out the kitchen window and seeing the tops of the corn stalks swaying in the California breeze, as if waving from my childhood, I’m reminded for a moment of those flat, Illinois fields.

Not Just The Corn

No doubt we all have a corn field, literal or figurative, from our youth. Landscapes of a kind that transport us back to younger days. For my wife, Diane, it’s the sweet fragrance of the backyard orange tree blossoms, reminding her of a childhood in Southern California when Orange County lived up to its name. The corn reminds me of home, of my mom, of family dinners, of the backyard cornfield that is now condos.

Cornfield Time Machine

I may not be able to time travel like Marty McFly in Back to the Future, but I find I’m often sent back to another place and time regardless. The many sights, sounds, smells and other catalyst that serve as an instant time machine and bring a smile to my heart. The older I get, the further I am from those cornfields, but the easier it is to climb inside the Delorean..

What’s your time machine?

Regina Stoops is a comedian, writer, MS Warrior and Autism Mom living with her wife and three kids in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

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