When you spend your formative years in corn country, you are bound to learn a lot about it, and as a kid, more than you wanted to know. For many years, our Dad managed a farm supply store, and one of the major items they sold was Pfister Hybrid seed corn.
The store was at Kearney, Nebraska, smack in the center of the U.S. from east to west. Farming was, of course, the major industry, with corn, sorghum and beans the major crops. All crops were irrigated, which meant that the rows were planted very close together to raise as much crop per acre as possible.
Hybrid corn has to be tasseled — extra tassles removed so that the corn doesn’t cross pollinate itself, and thus leaving the desired strain or hybrid to mature. Tasseling is a proces done by hand, by big groups of young field workers hired for the season to go out by truck at daybreak every day to a field ready to be tasseled. This proces took place in early summer.
The corn companies hired the crews for the farmers, and kids under legal working age were hired, so this is the job that many young teens had. Another task was one I did many times, beginning while we still lived at Superior, and my best friend lived on a farm at Webber, Kansas, just across the state line.
One summer when we were 10 or so, we were drafted to sucker corn. It’s a job that starts at daybreak and entails walking down the rows of young corn and pulling up the extra sprouts trying to grow around the main stalk. Long-sleeved shirts, overalls and sturdy shoes were a must – all this in 90 degree weather, hence the early start. We’d quit by mid-afternoon, having eaten a lunch at noon brought to the field by her Mom. We’d go to the house, put on shorts and t-shirts and lie quietly on the floor of the darkened parlor, letting a fan blow over and cool us from the heat of the day. By late afternoon, it would be time for chores again.
As you can tell, our lives revolved around corn, selling it and working in it. Oddly enough, one of my favorite summer treats was – and still is — sweet corn fresh from the field. On summer nights in Kearney, when our Mom got off work, she’d first go by the market where local produce was sold to get fresh tomatoes. Then it was off to a field at the outskirts of town to pick our own sweet corn. Finally, a stop at Kentucky Fried Chicken for a bucket of their finest. Supper would ready and on the table as soon as the corn was shucked and boiled and the tomatoes sliced!