Tuesday, August 03, 2010


Straight green stalks rose almost twice my height. I ran my fingers along the grooved green husk leaves tight-wrapped around one ear, and touched the spilling silk. It was prettier than the corn-husk doll at home on my mother's shelf.

Pick one, she said. And she helped me twist the ear until it snapped. In the kitchen she showed me how the husk peels back to reveal the golden kernels in their stately rows, how to pull out the last stubborn threads of silk. And I asked, how does this get in a can? And with a knife she sliced off the kernels, neatly. Oh please, I begged, can't we make something with it?

And she pulled a step stool up to the stove, and she taught me to make garden vegetable soup. And when I tasted that corn it was like a revelation of corn, a Platonic ideal of the Original Corn. But of course I didn't know those words like Platonic then. Platonic is what I think now, when I remember that taste. On that day I just knew that despite eating canned corn at least twice a week for dinner at home, I had never really tasted corn before. 


She came to pick us up in her blue Ford Cordoba, the car with impeccably clean seats. My younger sister, the sweet one, the pretty one, like always, simpered and batted her eyes for shotgun, pointing pitifully at her once-broken leg (the leg that had already healed perfectly almost year ago— the leg that posed her absolutely no problem, thank you very much, when climbing trees or running on the playground). But the charm that almost unfailingly moved my mother and father rolled off this tiny, twinkle-eyed woman like rain off a duck.

"She's older. She has longer legs."  And I sat in the front seat of a car for the first time in over a year, marveling at my good fortune, while my sister, who would have cried fat crocodile tears in any other person's car, pouted silently in the backseat, wondering how her spell had been broken.

At the Piggly Wiggly, as we marveled at porcelain figurines of ballerinas, she bought us each a Sprite. "Don't tell your mother," she said. My sister drank hers in conspiratorial glee, but I, ever the Puritan, took tiny sips. Everyone knew my mother had secret, invisible, almost-all-seeing eyes in the back of her head.

I didn't know, then, about the universal Soda and Candy Exception that is granted to grandmothers.

I should have drunk that soda.


We heard third-hand that she was riding through Vegas on the back of a motorcycle. A few weeks later, we heard she'd gotten a tattoo.

My mother was still furious at her for selling the family house. I was a little mad too, considering we'd been staying there at the time and had needed to move on short notice.

Secretly, though, I was thrilled by the image of her speeding past the neon lights, the wind ruffling her cropped grey hair. When I told my the kids at school, "My grandmother rides motorcycles in the desert and has a tattoo," they didn't believe me. Of course, I never told them the tattoo was of a panda. That made the whole picture seem somewhat less daring.


Last month, my aunt emailed to tell me that my grandmother was slowly, stealthily turning the entire grassy landscape of her assisted living community into a decorative food garden. "I try to tell her to save her money for a new computer," she wrote, "but she just keeps buying plants." Her neighbors, my aunt reported, had been recruited, and were now in cahoots in my grandmother's revolt against the grass. There were fruit trees and bean plants popping up everywhere.

In response I emailed my aunt a picture of my son standing in a tomato jungle twice his height, and said, "Grandma might like this picture." And I asked my aunt to show my grandmother my new blog on sustainable food.

A few days later I received in the mail a handwritten note on a scrap of blue paper, in my grandmother's familiar stilted left-hander-forced-to-be-a-right-hander scrawl, announcing my uncle's wedding. The last line, squeezed at the bottom like an afterthought, read, "Love your internet stuff."


Yesterday evening I was standing in my vegetable garden, tending to my overgrown tomatoes, when my husband brought the cordless phone out to me. And I stood still pruning and tying tomato branches in an automatic motion like a prayer on a rosary even as I heard the tremble in my mother's voice, and asked, "What's wrong?"


As I hold the blue note in my hand, staring at the last words my grandmother wrote to me, knowing there will never be another note, never any more words from her to me, to anyone, I can taste that corn.