My life is in boxes. Everything all stored away. Tomorrow the movers come to put everything I'm not taking with me in my Jeep into storage until the haul it cross country to my new place in Palm Springs.
The Baron has been staying with me for the past week to help out with the moving. Given that the Baron has some Very Strong Opinions and Firm Beliefs about moving and packing, as he does about many things, this has been taxing at times. But slowly but surely, box by box, To Do list item by To Do list item, things are falling into place.
It is, of course, bittersweet. This can all be summed up in terms of sweet corn: I can't believe I'm moving to Palm Springs just as sweet corn is coming into season!
Ah, sweet corn. The paramount experience of Summer. There is nothing better than sweet corn, a dozen cobs of Silver Queen, glistening with butter and salt. It's been hot a dry this summer. The corn is a little bit behind. The local rule of thumb is "knee-high by July," and it wasn't. But something tells me this will be a good year for sweet corn.
And I don't doubt that sweet corn will be available at my local Von's in Palm Springs. But I'll pass it by. Just like I did sweet corn at the D'Agostino's in NYC and the StoopidFresh (SuperFresh) in Jersey City. If that's the only sweet corn you've ever had in your life, than I have nothing but pity for you, you pathetic sonofabitch. You have truly missed out.
Because you see, the instant that ear of corn is plucked from the stalk, the sugars in the corn start converting into starch. So every moment it goes by, it becomes less and less sweet. When sweet corn isn't sweet any more, around these parts it gets fed to livestock. But not people. And not served up on the table with butter and salt.
My stepmother had the phone numbers of all the local corn farmers. And they had her number. And they'd give her a call: "Mrs. Kramer, we're bringing in corn tomorrow morning. We should be coming in off the fields at about eight o'clock." And when they came in, there would be my stepmother, waiting with the trunk of her car open. After it was loaded and payment was made, she'd drive home like a bat out of hell. My father would be waiting, with every burner on the stove holding a big pot of boiling water. When she got home, they'd set to work, shucking the corn and getting it on the boil as if lives were at stake. (As soon as it's boiled, the sugar-to-starch process stops.) After it boiled for about seven-and-a-half minutes, it would go into the sink, filled with ice water, and then they'd cut it off the cob and it would go right into the freezer.
When the call came in the afternoon, that would mean we'd have corn for dinner. During the season, this would go down sometimes six days out of the week. Sweet corn is not something you get tired of. My stepmother would put away a mere six ears, and my father and I would finish off about a dozen each. And the corn in the freezer assured that often throughout the year there would be corn fritters with applebutter, chicken corn soup, corn chowder, corn as a side dish, corn relish, corn with succotash.
For the past five years, I've done my best to keep up my family's obsession with sweet corn. On my Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter tables, there's always been corn that I put up the previous Summer. And even though my father could only eat a half dozen ears, we would have it for dinner during the season as often as I could get it fresh.
I wouldn't be surprised if as I drove down to get on the Pennsylvania Turnpike heading west, I passed a sign outside of Helrick's Farm that announced "First Corn Of The Season!!! White and Yellow. Yes! We Have Silver Queen!", just to remind me what I'm missing out on.
All my life, I've taken it for granted that I'd have sweet corn in the Summer. And so this Summer, sweet corn has come to represent everything I'm leaving behind. The Jersey Shore, TastyCakes, Rosenberger's Iced Tea, Queen Anne's Lace and cornflowers, spring peepers, maple leaves, the Delaware River... All those things that I barely notice because I've been seeing them my whole life.
In the desert, everything will be new, I'll be seeing it all with fresh eyes.
And one more thing.
When I find an apartment, one of the first things I plan to do is go out and get myself a kumquat tree. Or bush. Or whatever.
When I was young, for a few years I went to a local Mennonite Church. One Sunday, some members of the parish had recently returned from a trip to Florida, and they brought with them several crates of kumquats. The kids gathered around, "What are they?"
We were not put at ease upon learning the name, which sounded to us like something profane and dirty. And we were even more tentative when it was explained to us that you don't peel kumquats, you put them in your mouth whole. And there was a trick to eating them: if you took a little bite, you'd get all of the bitterness of the skin in your mouth. Rather, you put the kumquat back in your mouth between your upper and lower molars and bit down hard. I was one of the first to take the plunge. My mouth filled with tangy sweetness.
I liked kumquats. Weird and exotic as they were.
When I visited my friend John in San Diego last year, there out by the garage he had a kumquat tree sitting in a big pot. And kumquats were in season. And I spent a lot of time standing there, picking off kumquats and plopping them in my mouth, calling to John when I got a really good, sweet one.
At my home in Palm Springs, I will have a kumquat tree.
And so, I'm trading sweet corn for kumquats. Life offers its little compensations to us, no?
Just got a call from the movers. They'll be here between 9:30 and ten o'clock tomorrow morning.