Whittle: Shucking corn on memory lane

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Pull up a chair, and grant me an ear … an ear of corn that is.

When mule man/farmer Danny Fraley donated 25 ears of sweet corn at the height of their ripened taste and texture, he unknowingly unleashed a farm-boy’s treasure basket of memories.

Honey Bear (family pooch pal) recently shared a cool summer morning with me on the back porch while I shucked my way down Memory Lane, recalling memorable moments of rural life.

For centuries, corn has stood tall on Short Mountain as an economic crop. Now in this New Millennium, it’s even legal to buy a quart snort of clear corn liquor on Middle Tennessee’s highest majestic old mountain.

Corn helps Tennessee’s economy in more ways than one.

Corn helps to entertain us, as evidenced in 1974 when Missouri “Bootheel” native crooner Onie Wheeler recorded a hit song by the un-neighborly title: “John’s Been Shucking My Corn.”

Do you think “Hee Haw” would have become Music City’s most popular syndicated show in history without all the corny jokes? HEE HAW!!!

To this day, “Mammie” Hilda Stuart’s fried skillet corn will cause country singing legend sweethearts Connie Smith and Marty Stuart to drive miles and miles for one of his mother’s home-cooked meals.

“The secret that causes Connie, Marty and daughter Jennifer to like my corn so much, is that I sneak bacon grease in the skillet,” retired Murfreesboro banking executive Hilda deposited. “That’s the way we liked it back home in Mississippi too.”

That’s only a smattering of memories unleashed during that recent serene morning on the back porch I shared with Honey Bear … as the pile of corn shucking memories climbed higher and higher.

Honey Bear likes it when wife Pat and I speak directly to her.

“Honey Bear, the last time I recall personally shucking corn was in 1971 with Jane and Clyde Brothers’ family (daughters Karon, Judy and Lydia) down at Fairfield Dam & Mill on the Garrison River between Wartrace and Bell Buckle,” I noted to our devoted canine family member. “I can’t count the number of garden-fresh meals I consumed at beloved friend Jane’s dinner table back when I was a roaming reporter for the old Nashville Banner newspaper back in the 1970s.”

God obviously invented corn, especially sweet corn since it tastes so heavenly. And corn goes down in history as one of God’s most versatile life-sustaining kernels of life.

How versatile is corn?

Radio Talk Show host Truman Jones and wife Jackie testify they can’t watch a movie at the Premier 6 Theater in Murfreesboro without a big box of popped-fresh-daily popcorn.

“A movie is not a movie without popcorn,” radio show host voiced. “And Premier 6 reminds me of the old Princess Theater that entertained the children of my generation on Saturdays.”

Grits is about the only Deep South dish which I’ve never developed an appreciation. But anticipation of Momma Whittle’s canned hominy would make son Little Danny Whittle’s lips flutter with taste-bud exploding excitement.

Cousin Robert Terry Reed carried ‘Good Boy’ as a childhood nickname. But shucking corn could sometime turn him into our cussin’ cuzin’.

“When our parents would bring corn out of the field by the wagon loads for us children to shuck, it was mind-numbing and brutally painful to our fingers and hands,” Cuzin’ Terry noted. “But then when we got to eat Momma Durette’s fried skillet corn in the cold winter time, it made the drudgery and pain all worth it.”

Nothing went to waste back on the farm, my corn-shucking sometimes cussin’ cuzin’ recalled.

“When the corn shucks began piling up higher than our heads, we took the empty shucks and strands of corn silk and dumped them in the nearby hogs’ wallowing hole out by the barn,” Cuzin’ Terry confirmed. “Hogs will eat anything!!”

Finally, it was time to end our journey down corn-shucking Memory Lane, and cook supper to win great favor with wife Pat, who came in tired from a successful, but stressful day of Realtor work.

“That’s good-tasting fried corn,” Pat confirmed at the supper table.

I took full credit for that succulent-tasting skillet of fried sweet corn, never sharing that I sneaked in “Mammie” Stuart’s suggestion of adding bacon grease … you know, to make that sweet corn taste even more heavenly.

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Dan Whittle
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