It was a wonderful Fourth of July, the first one I remember.
Looking back, I’d guess it was 65 years ago – July 4, 1952. My parents had moved the family to a rented farmhouse that sat along old Highway 20 between Duncombe and Fort Dodge. It was a big old white frame house with a big yard, room for a garden and there were all sorts of farm animals, kept there by the owners.
Mom had planned a big family get-together and, even though I was two months shy of my ninth birthday, I remember it pretty well. Grandpa and Grandma Knox were there as were several of mom’s brothers and sisters. There were even some cousins there, close to my age which made them suitable playmates.
I was in awe of my uncle Donny’s new portable radio. Donny was still a teenager, youngest of 11 kids, and he carried his radio around in a way that made it appear attached to his ear. I followed him incessantly, probably driving him a bit wacko, trying to listen to the music filling the air around him.
Uncle Don was a good sport, even though as a 17-year-old he probably didn’t want any “kids” hanging around.
Mom had fixed a huge bowl of her world-famous potato salad, there were hot dogs galore, lemonade, baked beans and, of course, plenty of mom’s also-world-famous apple pie.
I’d guess there were 20 to 30 family members hanging out that day. My brother was only 6 years old and my sister was about 18 months old. My brother was a suitable playmate most of the time, but on this day I’d be hanging out with a few older cousins.
I don’t remember if we tired of following uncle Donny around, or if he got tired of us. I just remember that, eventually, we left him alone and my cousin, Russ, and I went out to explore the farm. Russ was a couple months older than I. He, too, lived on a farm, but his dad was an actual farmer. My dad drove a gasoline delivery truck back in ’52.
Russ’ knowledge of everything farm related was fascinating to me. I found out I could learn a lot just by following him around and asking a few questions.
Not too far from the house we found a mud hole. A few hogs were rolling around in the mud and I learned, for instance, the reason hogs wallowed in mud was because they thought it was a swimming hole – they were too dumb to even know it was mud. I didn’t know that, Russ.
We walked around for what seemed like a long time that afternoon, but time to mere lads was something that didn’t mean much.
I remember that, finally, we wound up behind the house where my mom and dad had planted a big garden. Russ suggested that we help out by pulling some of the weeds that had sprouted between the neatly planted rows of vegetables. After a couple tugs, however, I urged Russ to move on because this was too much like work.
It was about then that Russ looked at my dad’s neat rows of sweet corn. “Looks like yer dad’s corn is needin’ tasslin’,” Russ told me. “What’s tasslin’?” I asked. With that, he reached up, grabbed a tassel and tossed it to the ground. That sweet corn patch was my dad’s pride and joy. He’d planted it quite early so that we’d have sweet corn soon after the Fourth of July. It had grown to a point the tassels were staring to sprout.
“You gotta tassel’ corn,” Russ urged. “I think we better help yer dad out and pull ‘em.”
It didn’t take much urging. This wasn’t anything like pulling weeds. This was actually kind of fun. You’d pull a tassel and it made a little squeaky sound when it came out and then all you had to do was toss it on the ground.
Well, Russ and I worked on dad’s sweet corn patch until we’d pulled every tassel from every corn plant in the garden.
I was so proud of what we’d done, I couldn’t wait to tell my dad how we’d helped him that afternoon. I ran to him and almost shouted that Russ and I had just “tasseled” his sweet corn.
But, I was shocked at his reaction. Rather than giving me a pat on the back, dad jumped up and ran around to the back of the house to his cherished sweet corn patch.
It had been a pretty good family gathering up until that point. I think Russ got a spanking that day. I don’t remember if I did, or not. I learned a valuable lesson that day, though.
You don’t “tassel” sweet corn.