Corn Valley Recollections
Clara Mae Barnhart
My father eating corn on the cob, greasy lips and mustache, corn rolled on top of a whole stick of butter—after each cob it sinks lower and lower, a flattened pile of yellow with grooves like tire tracks running through it. On the plate next to him a pyramid of cobs: kernel-less, teeth marks cut down five straight lines to make pentagonal bricks—that boiled gray color. Thirteen, he says, that’s my record. I ate thirteen cobs in a contest once, didn’t win, lost to Elmer, he ate twenty-two.
Johnson’s sweet corn is the best around. Their fields border the Susquehanna river. High school kids harvest it in the hot sun every summer for six dollars an hour. Each yellow orb bursts with the sweetest juice you could ever know. It should only be cooked for one minute, thrown into a vat of boiling water, sixty seconds and not one more. At the farm that Elmer rented we kept pigs when I was a child, we would get in the pen with them to play. I liked one who I called Blackie, had black splotches on his pink, so many it looked like he’d spilled a can of paint and rolled around in it. We ate him at breakfast one day. Unawares, I smacked my lips and said good bacon, wondered what my brother was crying about.
I liked the baby cows with black splotches too. I’d stand next to them in the barn and let them lick my t-shirt with their long tongues until the whole front was wet. Elmer’s Australian shepherds would follow me in and herd me away from the cows that would kick.
I had my first taste of beer at Elmer’s, Don’t tell your mother, my father said when he handed me the can, Budweiser I think, white with red. It tasted stale and the carbonation prickled my nose and made my eyes water. I spit it out angry, standing in for my mother in that moment for my own sake, Mom wouldn’t want me to have that stuff in my mouth. But the men just laughed. My brother swallowed it, just one sip. I could tell he didn’t like it, but he wanted to.
On the way home we’d usually take the back roads, huge paved hills that cut right down into valleys. My father called them rollercoasters and he’d rev the engine at the top and say Here we go! Don’t tell your mother! And we’d speed down the slope so fast that once we got to the bottom and started back uphill we felt our stomachs flip inside us, felt like we were lifted from our seats, airborne for a second, but mostly we just liked screaming with our hands way up in the air. We never told our mother but she always knew—we thought this was just a thing mothers could do, like knowing if you have a fever just by resting a cool palm on your forehead.
Lost, once, in the cornfield at Elmer’s, his son Levi climbed the silo to search me out. But I hadn’t known that I was lost, I thought I was just sitting between brown stalks, stroking the long leaves—almost sharp. I thought I was just watching the way they curved in, then out, then over, the way the center cut right into the sky.
About the Author: Clara Mae Barnhart is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at Binghamton University where she also works full-time as an Academic Advisor. Recently another flash non-fiction piece was published on the Riverteeth Beautiful Things Blog, and her poetry is published or forthcoming in Timberline Review, Paterson Literary Review, Louisiana Literature, Negative Capability Journal and elsewhere.