I was working in the yard along the edge of the street, trying to make the place look like someone lives here in spite of the devastation to the premises wreaked by the lousy heat and drought. I looked up to see a young lad, early teens, walking up the street with his bandana around his neck, his lunchbox dangling from his left hand.
"Hi," I greeted him. "Detasseling over for the day?" "Yes," he said, "thank goodness."
A brief encounter, but as he ambled slowly on up the street, a flood of memories overwhelmed me. Our county grows lots of corn, lots of corn. For many years several major seed companies have produced thousands of acres of hybrid seed corn here every year. This has, for this community, provided short-term summer employment for lots of people, including children as young as fourteen.
It is hard, miserable, grueling work. I am not speaking from hearsay evidence. My own children had their turns in the corn fields. But that would be hearsay if their accounts were placed in evidence. Many of my junior high students as well as high school students were engaged in the enterprise.
And so this happened about 1974. The high school principal, the middle school principal, and I decided to contract a small plot so that we could gain personal experience, so that we might better understand the situation the children were dealing with, and coincidentally so that we might pick up a little extra cash for ourselves. This would be a snap. Only eight acres.
Dawn came, we met at the field, long sleeve shirts, long pants. Straw hat, bandana. Galoshes, because it had rained most of the night. The corn was wet, soaking us thoroughly. The leaves are sharp and walking between the narrow rows was quite unpleasant. The mud sucked at our feet on each step. The corn was too tall, making for a stretch to pull the tassels. By noon, the temperature was in the nineties. We knocked off at one and went home, only to meet in the field again at sundown to utilize daylight until it was gone. We should have been half-finished by the time we went home for the night. We weren't.
Daybreak. Back at it. By noon, the inspector was breathing down our necks. The field is "too hot." You've got to finish this, like yesterday! We took our afternoon break and recruited three of our kids and one of their friends, teens, to help us. At standard rates times four, there goes a good chunk of our future walking-around money. But that afternoon, the company moved in with a whip detasseler, which was a pretty new and untried technology. This went ahead of us and whacked tassels to kingdom come, but it missed many of them and left us to clean up after the machine. And we had to pay the cost of the machine and its operator.
Another day finished the job. The galoshes are still somewhere in that field, what little dribby-drab of money we had left after the cost of the machinery and the kids was soon gone. But we had the detasseling experience!
I have had many other experiences with the task, both directly and tangentially, but you've probably enjoyed about all of this you can stand.