Thursday, July 29, 2010

Kernels of Memories

This post is in memory of my mother-in-law, Marie Fritzemeier, whose birthday was July 29, 1932. She died in October 1996.

Corn on the cob is the very taste of summertime. Randy bought some at a stand in Hutchinson not long ago. It reminded me of marathon sessions putting up sweet corn with his family.

We don't raise corn, but my parents and brother do. With most of our ground near Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, the groundwater is too salty for irrigation. Some people in the area raise dryland corn, but it's not in the crop rotation here on The County Line.

On one of my morning routes, I do walk past some dryland corn belonging to a neighbor. The leaves whisper "Good morning" in the Kansas breeze and usually have me singing "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" in my head:

"The corn is as high as an elephant's eye
And it looks like it's climbing clear up to the sky."

Though I walk by the field with some regularity, I can assure you that the corn we consumed was from a Gaeddert's Sweet Corn Stand.

The corn near our house is field corn. I'm not particularly picky, and I can eat field corn, too. But it doesn't belong to us.

Some people evidently don't have that moral compass. One of our friends was checking an irrigation system a few evenings ago. He saw a pickup coming down the service lane, and he waited at the end of the road, assuming it was his crop consultant.

The pickup charged right past him - full of ears of corn in the truck bed.

Just in case you are ever inclined to "borrow" corn from someone, remember that you don't know whether or not it's just been treated with a herbicide, insecticide or fertilizer. Just a little word to the wise.

I know corn on the cob is nearly irresistible. That's why the Fritzemeier clan was intent on preserving the summertime taste.

But the time putting up corn was more than that. It was a time of working together with four generations, if you count the pint-sized help from Jill and Brent.

It's just one example of the rich legacy my kids have because they lived 2 miles from one set of grandparents and less than an hour away from the other set.

We don't always appreciate what we have until it is gone. I was thankful for Marie when she was here, but I probably didn't truly appreciate her enough. There are certainly no wicked mother-in-law stories to share. I was blessed to have in-laws who welcomed me to their family and made me feel like another daughter.

Marie's death left a hole in all our lives. But that's the great thing about memories. They help fill us up. I am so thankful that both my kids got to spend a lot of time with Grandma Marie - whether we were working or playing together as a family.

You get a glimpse at some of those memories we built through my July 25, 1990, At Home with Kim column in The Hutchinson News. It recounted one of our annual rituals, and I've reprinted it as a tribute to Marie.

I wish I'd taken photos of this family tradition. But when you are knee deep in corn husks and elbow deep in sticky corn, I guess you don't think about recording the event on film until it's too late.

After Marie died unexpectedly in 1996, we didn't put up corn again. But the memories live on.


The Hutchinson News
At Home with Kim,
July 25, 1990

At first, the pile of corn in the back of the pickup didn't look all that big.

"That's all you got?" my mother-in-law asked after Randy and Melvin made a trip to my folks' Pratt County farm for sweet corn.

To the guys, it seemed like plenty after hauling it to the pickup. And, as the day wore on, we thought maybe the little pile wasn't so little after all.

At the Fritzemeier house, putting up corn is a family affair if the guys aren't busy in the field. Since it has been dry, they traded their tractor seats for overturned buckets in the backyard under a shade tree.

Henry Ford had the right idea years ago. Like any good assembly line, we had our respective duties. There are huskers and silkers. Marie read a tip in a magazine last year about using dry terrycloth washrags to silk the corn. Try it: It works.

And we all had our hands full watching our youngest helper - 2-year-old Brent. He was an unofficial silker. In other words, he'd grab any ear he could, take a few swipes with an extra washrag and try to drop it in the water before anyone would holler at him.

More than a few ears took a premature bath before ending up with an official silker.

For Brent, the few worms we found in the corn were a treasure rather than a nuisance. He and his sister have become quite the fishermen this summer, so he was ready to forget the corn and have fun. The dry weather has made finding earthworms a challenge, so discovering a worm in an ear of corn was as good as getting a prize out of a cereal box.

Jill got in a few digs - literally - with a vegetable brush on some ears in her rendition of silking before she had to leave to attend story hour at the library. But Great Grandma Ava's taxi service arrived back from town just in time for Jill to help transfer unhusked ears from the front of the pickup to the back, where we were working.

By the time we finished husking, our shade was about to give out. And by then, Melvin was already inside cooking corn. If he's around, it's always his official duty. No one's fighting him for the job.

Our next mission: cutting the corn off the cob. Everyone has his own technique, I learned last year, my first for this joint endeavor. But a must at the Fritzemeier corn party is scraping the cobs after cutting to get any milky residue from the cobs.

By the time we got the first batch cut off, it was time for dinner. Central to the menu was piping-hot corn on the cob.

This was Brent's first try at eating corn on the cob. He had some trouble wrapping his mouth around the big cob. But once he figured out how to bite it, our novice got a big, buttery grin like the rest of us.

Jill eats corn in the same haphazard way as her father. She crunches erratically all over the cob, unlike we civilized people who methodically get every juicy morsel on the cob.

Melvin's first batch didn't last, and we had to cook more to satisfy our appetites. Ava had brought fresh peach pie, but several of us turned it down to have more corn. If you turn down Ava's pie, you must be hungry for fresh corn.

With tummies stuffed full of corn, a nap seemed more appealing than slicing off more corn. But cut we did.

By 3 PM, we'd frozen 56 pints and saved some ears for cooking on the cob. Though it doesn't seem possible to me now, I do remember, as a kid, getting tired of corn on the cob when corn was in season.

Thankful for the memories today ...


  1. Yea. I remember. We did that all of my time at home. But I missed it when we moved to Lubbock and had no room for a corn patch. We did have a small garden. This year, we have tomotoes, lettuce, turnips, cantaloupe and brocolli in our little garden spaces, at the edge of the pecan orchard. Boy, I do miss the corn!!!


  2. Thanks for writing this. I always LOVED the corn out of the freezer after corn season was over. Especially with mom's scalloped potatoes. Side by side and a little bit of each on your fork. YUM!! I remember the circle of workers and Dad cooking the corn. Great tradition that I am sure I did not appreciate at the time but now talk about every year with my class when we read a certain book about corn. Thanks for preserving memories!!

  3. You have a bigger garden than me, Mary! I have tomatoes and one survivor pepper plant. I love the garden produce, but I guess I want to spend my time other ways. (I know you make time for what you want to do, so I can't really use that as an excuse). And without Randy, the tomato plants would have already died a slow and agonizing death!