The tug of history

This past Thursday, I drove 2 1/2 hours north into Central PA, to an old, small, red brick church in the country.  The occasion was the funeral service and burial of my Great Aunt May, and the venue was the church where I was raised, located within view of the farm where I grew up.

The minister was new to the church and didn’t know Aunt May well, but he said he learned much during his meeting with her five children. In particular, he said he found great comfort in knowing that May would take her eternal rest in a place where many generations before her also chose to be buried. It warmed his heart, he said, to think that she would be surrounded by her ancestors.

It’s true, she’s buried next to her first husband, my Uncle Gilbert, but technically, the little cemetery in the valley holds many generations of his family, not hers.  Nevertheless, she proudly took the Beaver name when she married.  She even researched and wrote a geneaology book, outlining the descendants of George Beaver of Pfoutz Valley, PA. It was this George who, in 1878, would be the first of many to be buried in that quiet plot of land that is surrounded yet today by fields of grain.

As I exited the highway and drove through Millerstown, turned right to go up the hill, past my high school, then out into the valley, I felt as if I was being transported back in time. (The Simple Minds song on the radio helped.) I used to drive from home to school a couple of times a day and joked then that I could probably drive it with my eyes closed.  I used to know who lived in every house along the five-mile route. Now, I know many have been sold to new occupants. Things are “turning over” in the valley.

The inside of Pfoutz Valley United Methodist Church hasn’t changed much since I left home for college in 1985. The same portrait of Jesus hangs on the wall over the same gold cross on the same altar furniture.  Ginny played hymns on the same organ I used to practice on during that one year I took lessons in high school.  Food for the post-funeral luncheon was arranged on the table in the kitchen where my Sunday School class met when I was a teen.  Several of the men and women who watched me grow up were there, attending to the food so that the mourners could eat and visit with each other.

I understand what the minister was trying to say, about finding comfort in being surrounded by so much history. He remarked that many people don’t have that. I moved to the DC area almost 20 years ago and figure we’ll stay here at least until the kids are grown, if not longer. But when I think about where I would want to be buried, my mind always wanders back to the little cemetery in the valley. My dad’s there, my grandma and grandpa are there, and all those generations of ancestors, a little piece from whom I carry within my own genes.  Also, I like how the cemetery is next to the church. Around here, there are huge “memorial parks” that have no church association. Our own church doesn’t have its own cemetery.   It just makes sense to me for one to be buried next to the place where one worshipped.

But would it make sense for my survivors to cart me the whole way up there?  Not really. It’s not practical. I mean, I spent only 16 years of my life there. But they were the formative years. The ones that really leave a big impression on my soul.  And even though I’ve been gone now for more years than I lived there, I still feel the tug of history, the pull of that connection to those who went before.

But seriously, folks…

WOW! I had no idea my post about the NFL cheerleaders would get so much attention and pluck so many nerves! I’ve never had a “real” debate like that in my comments, and it was fascinating to watch it unfold. Except for a few comments that got a little too personal, that is.  But those folks can’t help it if they’re not nearly as enlightened as my loyal readers! Most commenters understood my point and appreciated the debate, and I’d like to thank you all for weighing in.

Yes, even you.

And thanks, Washington Express, for quoting me! Come back again and visit soon!

Listen. We’re all mature adults here, right? And really, with the state of the world these days, and in the larger scheme of things, does any of this really, really matter? Aren’t we all just dust in the wind?

One commenter who came late to yesterday’s dance thought our discussion was all a bunch of fluff:

Get a life people, everything in this world had gotten sexier, why wouldnt cheerleaders, and cheerleaders dont cheer much anymore they dance. I think there are more important issues out there!

WOW! Great point! There are more important issues out there! Lots of ’em! And we should be discussing them right here in this space.

It’s time to get serious!

Taking my commenter’s lead, I propose we dispense with all humor and instead debate some weightier topics. Matters of import. Take poverty, for instance. I learned here that:

According to UNICEF, 25,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”

And then there’s the crisis in Darfur, summarized here by Amnesty International:

The conflict in Darfur, Sudan, has led to some of the worst human rights abuses imaginable, including systematic and widespread murder, rape, abduction and displacement. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed by both deliberate and indiscriminate attacks, and over 2.5 million civilians have been displaced. Though violence persists, the UN Security Council has mandated what may be an effective peacekeeping operation to guarantee security for the people of Darfur.

Oh, and how about healthcare reform? And the whole thing about the so-called “death panels” (thanks, Sarah Palin!)?

The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

Now there is some heavy stuff! Some meaty issues! I mean, who are we to be debating the merits of whether the “cheerleaders” are really leading cheers and whether their provocative dancing belongs on the sidelines of an NFL game, and whether the NFL game is really just about the GAME, or part of a larger spectacle that includes a variety of entertainment items, much like a three-ring circus?


**slaps forehead**

So, if anyone cares to debate a more serious topic, choose from one of the above, or pick your own and let’s get started!  You over there, lurking behind your monitor? You go first.

Sweet, sweet corn


Corn ears on white background
Originally uploaded by

Oh, dear friends, this photo makes my mouth water.  It also makes me want to double-check my stock of dental floss. Because, seriously, is there anything sweeter in the summer than fresh sweet corn, pulled off the stalk and immediatly placed into boiling water, only briefly, just long enough so that its heat instantly melts real dairy butter so that coarsely-flake salt will adhere?

I think not.

It’s the height of sweet corn season here in the Mid-Atlantic.  At this time of year, I admit, I become a bit haughty, more than a little persnickety. I wrinkle my nose at the already-shucked, ears of corn whose ends are trimmed so the ears fit neatly onto the green styrofoam tray, all the better to shrinkwrap and label.  I am the person who will ask, “when were these picked?”, knowing that the ONLY acceptable answer is  TODAY. Anything else is just too… yesterday’s news. I positively scoff at the ears that start showing up in grocery stores as early as May. Where must they have been grown, and how long were they on the truck, and what, prey tell, are they doing in Maryland?

This time of year prompts fond memories of growing up on the farm. My dad farmed hundreds of acres of grains, including corn for feed and seed, but in the field right across the road from the house, he would always plant more than a few rows of sweet corn.  You know – the kind that humans eat. When the first ears were finally ready to be picked, usually during early August, we’d enlist relatives and neighbors for a big day of pulling and carting and shucking and blanching and cutting and packaging, so that come winter, we’d have a freezer stocked full of corn that tasted like a bite right outta summer.

Everyone had a job.  Teenagers were instructed to don long-sleeved shirts and douse themselves in bug spray, and warned of how itchy the leaves of the cornstalks were. They were taught how to tell when an ear was ready to be picked. They’d load the ears into Radio Flyer wagons and wheelbarrows and tote them across the road to the porch, where another crew would busy themselves with shucking the ears.  We called it “husking.” There is a method to husking/shucking, and if you do it right, you can do it in about three pulls, leaving only minimal silk on the ear. 

After shucking, the ears would be toted into the kitchen, where our giant canning kettles were on the stove, simmering with boiling water. I always found it ironic that the height of summer’s heat and humidity was the only time we were forced to engage in an activity that resulted in excessive heat and humidity in our non-air-conditioned kitchen. Because that’s when the corn was ready. Not in December. AUGUST.

My mother would transfer the steaming-hot blanched ears to the other side of the kitchen, where our double sinks were full of icy cold water.  We would run the ears through one cool bath, then transfer them to the other sink for a second bath. At this point, all workers in the kitchen had to be restrained from jumping into the cool sink baths. Furthermore, whoever was in charge of said baths could no longer feel their hands, which were numb. Which was in stark contrast to the sweat dripping down their back.

The goal was an ear that could be handled by She Who Cuts The Ears: Grandma Losch.  My mother’s mother was the only one who was allowed to cut the corn off of the ears. No one else could do it to her satisfaction; none could touch her efficiency.  She’d sit at the kitchen table, a giant tub balanced between the table and her ample lap, sharpened knife in her right hand, and denude each ear with laserlike precision. There was a rhythm to her cutting: She’d run the knife up each of the rows, usually in four or five passes, then scrape it in the opposite direction to get every bit of sweet corny goodness.

I always wanted to cut. I was always denied. But oh, how I watched.

After grandma’s tub was full, someone else would take it and fill little freezer bags with the sweet, sticky kernels using a measuring cup, twist-tie them shut (kids, this was in the days before Ziploc bags), then place each bag into a wax-coated box designed for preventing freezer burn. Lastly, someone would write the year on the box, then down into our basement and into one of our deep freezers the boxes would go.

It was hard work, but everyone who helped left with corn. And the best part? Was that we’d eat corn for lunch. Sweet, juicy ears of corn, that had been pulled from their stalk only five minutes before and plunged into boiling water, a whole stick of butter dedicated to having steaming hot ears rolled on it, causing the top to become concave from the heat and pressure. The butter and salt would drip down our chins. The corn would stick between our teeth.

We would floss.

Then, the mid-day meal over, we’d get back to it. Usually the picking happened early, first-thing in the morning, before the heat and the gnats got too bad.  The hot kitchen jobs were the last to wrap up. It was a full-day affair, and tiring.  But come January, as we were putting pats of butter on our pile of corn kernels, which was sitting next to our mashed potatoes and roast chicken, we’d remember that hot August day and smile.

"Pizza" kit
The Chef's "Pizza" kit

So, now you know why I had no idea corn came in cans until after college. You also know why I refuse to buy the Niblet ears in my grocer’s freezer case. BAH! Oh, if I need a fix I’ll break down and buy brand-name frozen cut sweet corn. It’s an acceptable substitute, much in the same way you can call that Chef Boyardee pizza kit a “pizza.” And I’ll buy it from farmer’s markets around here, and even in the grocery store when they bring in huge boxes of it (but not before I peel back the husk and stick a thumbnail into a kernel to assess its tenderness).

But to me, nothing compares to fresh-picked, fresh-cooked sweet corn.

Now please – be a dear and pass me the floss, would you?