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The Man Who Grew Corn

Abby Grace Shrader

Corn is also called maize (from the original term - Zea mays).  

I wish I could have known my grandfather when he was young. There is a photograph, a

school portrait actually, when he was in the second grade. It folds open on the back so that you can prop it up on a table. In the picture, he is making the meanest face, like he is about to tear into the person making him get his picture taken. It is the exact same face he would make at all the grandkids when he wanted to pester us. It’s the same face I see on my niece all the time. On the back of the photo, he wrote his name - Howell. I stare at the scribbles, wondering how he held the pencil in his small, boyish hand to move it across the back. Howell.  

92% of the U.S. corn crop is genetically modified to be herbicide tolerant. This means that

the weeds around the plant will be killed, but not the corn itself.  

My grandpa played football in high school. He played basketball for a little while, but being

the quarterback for Sylvania High School was what mattered. His face would light up whenever I asked about those days. At my grandparents’ house, the tv was always on the SEC network, watching football.  

Corn is categorized as a monoecious flower. The tassels (stamens) produce 2-5 million

grains of pollen.  

I can remember sitting in their kitchen, at that round table. The floors are a pale yellow. It’s

cramped. There’s buckets at our feet. I am shucking corn. It’s summertime, I think. My grandma pours pans of creamed corn into plastic bags to freeze it for later Sunday lunches. My grandpa comes in, tan as can be, with another bucket of corn. He is wearing denim shorts, tall white socks, and a straw hat. His bottom lip juts out with chewing tobacco.  

There are three categories of corn: dent corn, flint corn, and sweet corn.  

When I was fifteen, I learned what dementia was. He was still okay, then, but I knew that I

had to start talking to him as a person, not just as my grandpa. I started going to see him multiple times a week, and when I started college, I made sure to see him every other weekend at the very least. He wasn’t as good, then. But I sat with him. I talked to him. I showed him pictures and asked him questions. At his funeral, my grandma squeezed my hand and said matter of fact, “You were his favorite, you know.”  

Each kernel (800/ear) has its own silk which is fertilized by an individual grain of pollen. 

In a town of 2,298 people, everyone knew my grandpa. He drove through town in a green

jeep with all the windows down, his dog sticking its head out the back. People came to his house to buy the corn he grew - ambrosia and peaches and cream.  

Stalks of corn can be tilted into the ground and baled for livestock bedding.  

I am walking into their house. He is sitting in his recliner. I try not to startle him when I

come around the corner. He smiles when he sees me. In that strong southern voice, quick to the draw, “Hey gal.” Even until the very last time I see him. 

Grain is the most common means of corn harvest.  

Before his mind became cloudy, he was always outside. He had the worst watch tan line I

had ever seen. The sliding glass door opened and closed, opened and closed, as he went back and forth to his garden and to his shed. His garden was huge. It was in the backyard, between his house and what was his parents’ house. Rows and rows of strawberries and squash and okra and corn. He walks through, wearing an Alabama cap, adding produce into buckets. I go out to join him, my bare feet slapping the ground. My mother warns me I am going to step on a bumble bee and it will “hurt like the dickens” but I ignore her. When I run up to him, huffing and puffing, he hands me a strawberry. He hasn’t washed it off; Says it’ll make me tough. I bite into it and it is the best thing I have ever tasted.  

Spring 2023

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