My Cornfield

A Memory of a Simpler Time

The house was at 351 Main Street. The phone number was Evergreen 8-4949. My memory for numbers and little facts was always good. Names, not so much. There were two families that farmed in our town whose last name began with M. One had a household name because they had a farm stand with a big sign.

The other name I’ve forgotten. They had a cornfield right behind my grandparent’s house that they accessed from Shepherd Street. Most of that land is condos, now. Before that it was swamp and hunting ground for native peoples. Every time the farmer turned over the soil, my friends and I would go looking for arrowheads. We never came back empty-handed.

There were three distinct fields out there. They planted both early and late corn. It was sweet corn and a few of the neighbors helped themselves. One year, the farmer brought a bushel of corn to my grandfather. He said he appreciated that my grandfather didn’t help himself. My grandfather plant his own bread and butter in his backyard, about twenty steps from the cornfield. 

To my memory, I first visited the field in the winter. There was little snow on the ground and I was walking around in my snow boots. It was probably right before my fourth birthday. I received a kite most years on my birthday, even though it was still too cold to fly it most years. That year it was a box kite from my father. We flew it in the cornfield in March, after he put it together. 

My father got it into the air and then handed me the string. I was wearing mittens. I dropped the string. So he got the kite from where it fell and had me hold the string while he tossed the kite into the air. After a few tries he had taught me how to run with the string to get the kite into the air. The kite fell, and I dragged it across the rows of corn stubble. The fragile box broke.

After my father fixed the kite, he would get it into the air before he gave me the string. In later years I had different designs of kites. One was a batman kite made of plastic instead of paper. I never had a kite that flew as high as that one. It stayed up over that cornfield forever it seemed. Maybe it is still there.

When the corn was growing the field was a great place to play. My grandmother would rather I didn’t. She didn’t want me to damage the crop. But when the corn was high over my head, it was irresistible. I could play there with my friends and their dogs for hours. But it would have been a sin to pick the corn. I never did. Long after my grandfather was dead I still remembered his warnings. We never steal the work of others.

After the harvest, there were new games to play. We could throw rocks at the crows that came to eat the fallen cobs. And we could grab the stalks and pull them out of the ground. The clods of dirt on the ends made them into wonderful missiles. We learned about centrifugal force, lofting them higher and higher into the air. And Jonathan’s dog, Black Beauty, would chase them.

After a rain the field would become wonderful muck for boys in boots to trudge through like doughboys in the trenches of France. We could sail little boats and sticks in the big puddles that formed in the ruts of the farm road. 

At the far edges of the biggest field, there was a patch of black raspberries. The taste of those berries, both sweet and tart, is what I used to judge raspberries to this day. Three of us once picked many quarts of the berries in plastic pitchers and then took them around to our neighbors to offer them for sale. They rewarded us with enough money to go on a candy shopping spree. 

That cornfield also provided a special solitude. Wandering out there any time of year was a journey into my soul. I could dream of the future. Or I could imagine the field covered with Indian teepees long ago. Or, best of all, I could think of everything and nothing at all. 

From the house, the field was inviting to me any time of the day or night or year. Across it I watched many sunsets with my grandmother, her sister, and my mother. As the orange or pink light flooded into the back windows of the living room, we would ooh and aah. And someone would say the magic words, “Look! There’s Grammy’s sunset.” 

In the four years I lived in that house I never thought to take a picture of that sunset. I was too busy enjoying the moment. When I turned sixteen, I was living in the house next door at 355. My room was the sun porch, which faced the cornfield. It didn’t feel any different. It was still my cornfield. But that time I took pictures of Grammy’s sunset. And they are all that remains of my cornfield.

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