Archived Story

The sweet corn wore a white cowboy hat

Published 9:39am Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Column: Tales from Exit 22, by Al Batt

In the old cowboy movies, you could tell the bad guys from the good guys. The good guys wore white hats.

I sat at a picnic table. I was enjoying eating sweet corn. It was a reasonable thing to do. I wasn’t wearing a white hat, chasing down cattle rustlers or slaying dragons. I was eating precious produce with gusto. I hoped such gluttony wouldn’t have much impact on my health insurance premiums. They have never known any other direction but up. I digress. Sweet corn is one of the great blessings of a Minnesota summer. It’s ambrosia. I’m not a hoarder. If I ever become one, I’ll start hoarding (I’ll call it collecting) memories of sweet corn that I’ve eaten. Eating corn on the cob provides ammunition for an endless summer that ends much to soon.

My delectable sweet corn was wearing salt and butter. I washed it down with iced tea. Sweet corn has a definite bouquet.

It’s said that people can distinguish as many as 10,000 different smells, ranging from frying bacon to rotten eggs and from roses to skunks. A well-known idea called the “Proustian phenomenon” proposes that distinctive smells have more power than any other sense to trigger memories. The theory is named after the French writer Marcel Proust, who described a character in his novel who vividly recalled forgotten memories from his childhood after smelling a madeleine biscuit that had been soaked in tea.

Thanks to the smell of that delicious sweet corn, I recalled a boyhood me eating corn on the cob at Kernel Days in Wells. An ear of corn was dipped in a vat of butter, and then handed to me. I walked to the nearest curb where I sat down and began to eat. Corn on the curb. I seldom finished without dropping the ear on the pavement. I was fortunate, in that my family believed in the five-second rule. That meant that once food hit the ground or floor, it took five seconds for the germs to find it. If I picked the corn up before five seconds had elapsed and blew off whatever foreign objects were stuck to the buttered corn, I could continue eating it. I was also lucky that there was no refrigerator nearby. The rule of the drop is that anything that is capable of rolling will roll under a refrigerator.

While relishing my bonne bouche, I watched cars motoring by. There were many white cars driving around.

I thought about the cowboys and their white hats and concluded that there are a great number of good guys and gals who are licensed drivers.

White is the most popular vehicle color in North America, according to the 2012 DuPont Automotive Color Popularity Report. Black comes in second, with silver and gray tied for third.

I read a magazine article that speculated why white is such a popular color for vehicles. The writer credited the influence of Apple, whose popular products have established white as a hip color of status. Apple has inadvertently propelled white to prominence in the auto industry. Black and white are often viewed as denoting status, luxury and quality.

I wonder if those old cowboys knew that?

Figures based on PPG’s automotive production data showed that white had 21 percent of the 2012 market, followed by black (19 percent), silver and gray (both 16 percent), red (10 percent), blue (8 percent), tan (7 percent), and green (3 percent).

While I kept watch on cars, I held the ear of corn with both hands and ate from left to right. I’m not married to that fashion of eating corn on the cob, but it is my typical method of devouring the kernels. I moved down the ear as if I were hitting the return key on a typewriter. It’s hard to find a typewriter today. It’s been replaced by corn on the cob.

A tablemate ate around his ear of corn. He started near one thumb and cleared corn in patches until he polished off the last bit circling the cob nearest his other thumb.

I know that others eat sweet corn without a plan. They randomly remove kernels. I worry that this haphazard method might lead to anarchy.

In a perfect world, an ear of sweet corn would grow a toothpick at one end. That would come in handy for removing fiber between teeth.

My thanks to all those who provide sweet corn for the rest of us. I can see your white hats from here.


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.