Sunday, July 11, 2010

Shucking Corn By Beth Kinsella Sakanishi

I never have the chance to shuck corn here. The Japanese don't often eat it the way we do (they grill it and, horror of horrors, when you buy it, in the supermarket, it has often already been shucked and swaddled in plastic) and it is not the sweet-tasting corn we would get in North America anyway. Too, I am never cooking for a dozen people, the way corn for dinner seems meant to be eaten.

In Japan, corn is seldom sold fresh on roadside stands with homemade signs. Here, it is food for a beach barbecue or is sold from stalls at festivals. And it is the soy sauce brushed on it as it is grilled that gives it the taste and scent Japanese get all nostalgic for.

It is good, too, it is just not what my nostalgia is all about: Otty summers, a handful of us sitting around shucking a huge mountain of fresh corn.

Here is what I picture:
It's one of those rare, cool Otty Lake days and we are wearing more layers than we have all summer long. Tom and Chris, just back from Algonquin, are still wearing the hats that are mandatory for the entire week of camping.

I'm doing what I usually do back with my family: listening. Chris and Tom are yakking away and Chris, corn ear as yet completely untouched, is the one talking up a storm, with Tom periodically chipping in. It's some guy story thing they are mulling over, so I am in truth partly far away in Tokyo.

Then there is Pat off to the side, with Nick, warmly wrapped in a towel, in her arms. When I look at the pair of them, the immense sweetness of her holding him hits me right in the heart and takes me back to when I was 4 or 5.

When you are a child you can play in the water for what seems all day and will argue mightily with the adult who tells you it is time to come out. Yet once your feet reach shore you are suddenly exhausted and cold. It's okay, though, because your mom or an aunt is there and they have been paying attention and saw you get out and know just when the change happens and they come to you, wrap you in a towel, and hold you. That's what a mom, or an aunt, does: notice.

Mom is right there with us, in our circle, but she is also turned slightly out a bit, as though her radar is picking up Pat, too, behind us who is cuddling Nick.

Just before Mom called us all out front to shuck the corn, we had been on an expedition, following one of our new fascinations -- identifying trees. We'd gone deep into the pasture to parts we don't often, explorers looking at a familiar world in new ways: bark and leaves and shapes and colors and scents were compared and discussed and argued over. In fact, we could settle on most, but the leaves in Mom's hand had two possibilities and Mom was, as so often, the one to see just how the final puzzle piece fit into the right place.

I think of that scene years later, in Japan, and so many patterns and ghost sensations rise within me. I see Mom busy doing at least two things at once, as always. I see her perched between two spheres: young motherhood behind her, and lifelong learning in her lap. I can hear Chris's voice speeding up and rising a bit the way it does when a stream of seriousness is running through him and I feel Tom wait for a pause and bridge the stream with a "Well, you know...," in his storyteller's drawl. I am enjoying the touch of the crisp outer leaves of the ear of corn in my hand and the satisfying rip and final reluctant tug as I remove them. The corn silk, in long, purling skeins and snug, too, around the smooth teeth of the kernels are textures my fingers remember as Summer in Otty and my senses are fully caught up as I forget, for a moment, the stories going on around me.

Picture One: Otty Lake Canada, July 1965
Left to Right: Dan, Tom, Sue, Beth, Tim Pat Kinsella

Picture Two: Cameron Walker ( Kristin Kinsella’s son)


Tim Kinsella said...

I clearly remember many meals at Otty Lake that consisted of only corn. I thought that was a really neat idea and commented on that to Mom once. She said "you probably didn't notice but those meals were mostly on Fridays, before Dad came up for the weekend and when I had run out of money". A "corn meal" was a very cheap meal for such a large family, especially if you stopped at a farm stand.

Who knew that such a wonderful meal was also cheap!

CB said...

What wonderful memories Otty lake has given us! And how grand of you, Beth, to remind us of these!! We miss you at all times but especially when your siblings are exploding with facts that you would have set them straight on!! Mom
[ for thise who are wondering, Beth lives in Japan!]

Jack Kinsella said...

Speaking of corn, one year Dan decided to grow his own corn behind the cottage to save his mother the problem of going into town to buy it. He watched it like a hawk as it grew nicely (higher than an elephan't eye by the 4th of July)
Finally he decided it was ready and planned to pick it the following morning. Unfortunately, the racoons had been watching it also and that night they raided the whole crop!