#172 In which our hero discusses corning, which may sound like a deviant sexual act, but is, in fact, not.
The last several work days I’ve been sitting around with my thumb up my ass, but now, naturally, when I want to write and post daily I’m chin-deep in work. But, as I have a few minutes before jumping into project #2 of many, I have to write about something that’s been on my mind for months: CORNING.
I know that sounds vaguely sexual, but I can only assure you that it is not.
I grew up in a tiny town right on the OH/PA border; there wasn’t much around us other than farms. And, being in Ohio, most of these farms grew corn. In the lead-up to Halloween every year, my friends and I (and pretty much every other kid in town under the age of 16) would steal field corn (i.e., hard, dried corn left on the stalk to be used for animal feed), shuck and shell it, and run around town pelting houses with it. When you got a good throw at a big picture window or, better yet, aluminum siding, it made a very satisfying rattle-claddle noise. This provided us with hours of fun.
Remember, I said it was a small town.
Looking back, it’s amazing to me that this behavior was allowed. I mean, it was no secret among parents what we were doing; and if it was, the paper grocery store bags filled with dried corn should have been a big giveaway. We would dress in black (to better hide in the darkness) and literally run all over town, unsupervised, for hours corning houses. The big payoff was if someone would come out on the porch and yell at you. The especially bold among us would then pop up from the bushes and pelt the yeller with more corn. Hilarious.
Now, I can’t even imagine allowing my children to do this. Run around in the dark, trespass, vandalize (albeit, mildly) houses? Even more amazing, is that the law looked the other way. It was a Halloween prank, it lasted for maybe a week before Halloween, and that was it. The only ones who really got up in arms about it were farmers. Apparently they didn’t appreciate a bunch of kids stomping through their field stealing their crops. Go figure.
When I went to college I would occasionally mention corning to people, and without exception they looked at me like I was insane. It was something that always happened in the fall at home, and had for generations, far as I could tell. It never occurred to me that everyone didn’t do it.
After a while I stopped mentioning it, and came to the conclusion that this was something that only happened in my little home town. When The Scientist and I were dating I brought it up, and got the same “what the hell kind of Children of the Corn town did YOU grow up in?” look.
One corning experience that really stands out: one night, we were out corning cars. This is just like corning houses, but you hide by the side of the road and throw at passing cars. The big thrill is if they slam on their breaks for a second, before driving away. It was always in the back of my head that corning cars could lead to something catastrophic, like the driver panicking and driving into a tree (not that this ever happened). So we didn’t corn cars very much; most often it was an end of the night thing, after we were tired from running around town.
Well, we knew we picked the wrong car when a corvette stomped their breaks and five teenage boys came pouring out. I was probably 13 or so, and these were high-schoolers… and not only any high-schoolers, but high school toughs. We split up and ran, but I was caught. I tried to talk my way out, but I was held until the leader came to me. He was a known psychopath, even to us middle-schoolers. He squared up on me as his buddy held me tight. He asked me my name and I told him. See, my father was a principal in the school system, and for a brief shining moment I thought that this guy would come to the conclusion that it would be a bad idea to punch out the principal’s kid.
I was very wrong.
He sucker-punched me mightily in the gut, leaving me crumpled and gasping for air. Looking back, I guess I’m lucky that he didn’t beat the shit out of me, a quick shot to the gut was getting off easy.
I’m pretty sure I never corned cars again after that.
So for years I lived with the notion that my miniscule hometown had this weird Halloween custom that no-one else in the world knew about.
Until this year.
I was talking with one of the VPs of account services about some project we were working on together. There was some question about the color selection, and she picked up on my accent. Growing up less than an hour away from Pittsburgh, I has a couple of distinctive qualities about my speech. The biggest by far, is how people who grew up where I did pronounce “wash” as “wursh.” I’ll be the first to admit that it makes you sound like a hillbilly, and ever since leaving town I have worked hard to NEVER say “wursh.” About 98% of the time I pronounce it correctly… but every once in awhile, it will still slip out. I think the last time we had an appliance crap-out I screamed, “We just had this fucking wurshing machine fixed last month!” Naturally, my wife never misses the opportunity to mock me for this.
But even though I don’t say “wursh” (at least, most of the time) I still pronounce “color” as “keller,” hard K. Only rarely have I had people not understand me, so I’ve never worried about it. I can say it correctly if I envision the word as “culler.”
Anyway, this AE picked up on it, and asked me where I was from. Turns out she grew up in a small town not far from my hometown. Our schools even played each other in football. Ha, ha, small world.
Couple days later, I started thinking about corning. So I asked her about it and, by God, she had been corning! She hadn’t thought about it in years, she said, and we both had a good laugh about it. Then, amazingly enough, a passing graphic designer chimed in saying she, too, had been corning. Holy crap! Twenty years of isolation and suddenly my weird small-town prank is shared by no less than two people! Crazy.
My mom was up last weekend, and I asked her if she remembered corning. “Oh course!” she answered. Do kids still do it? “Yes, every year.”
I wonder if there’s some distant pagan/insular community foundation to this ritual, or if it just started with a bunch of bored Ohio kids? Next Halloween, Lily and I might have to make a quick trip to a lonely corn field somewhere. Just to, y’know, keep traditions alive.
But no corning cars.