I hoisted up the sweet corn sign (painted on the back of my beloved sunflower sign), resurrected the trusty pink umbrella and filled the cooler with eight dozen cobs of corn. After setting the money jar in its hallowed place, I treated myself to a long shower to remove sweat, grunge and any stray spores. I hosed down Tilly too, and hung her on the clothesline. Looking more like the mistress of Someday and less like an underpaid farm-hand, I poured a tall, cold drink and sat down to pay some bills, hoping to distract myself from spying out the front window. I set a reminder to go out and fill up the cooler (and check the money jar) in a couple of hours.
With sunflowers sales, I didn't meet many customers, but because the corn supply had to be replenished frequently, I came face to face with buyers quite often. On the first day, I realized that selling corn - or anything, for that matter, that you've grown or made yourself - would offer a stern lesson in human nature. The exchange of goods for money means you get to see the good, the bad and the just plain rude up close and personal. And I saw all three within a span of two days.
Like the woman who wrinkled her tanned little nose as she picked through the selection in the cooler and said, "Not very big, are they?" I thought that 23 years of working in customer service centres would have prepared me for scenarios like this. "Don't take it personally," had been the catch-phrase in customer service, which was easy when you were distanced from the products and services you supported. After all, I hadn't personally paid the claim that Joe Customer was screaming about, and I didn't own the phone company that my friends threatened to boycott. I just worked there.
But complaints about my corn? The corn I'd perspired my way through four weed-and-bug-infested rows to pick? From a woman who looked like she barely knew how to operate a can-opener, let alone shuck a dozen cobs without breaking a nail?
"Well," I said, after a pause during which I considered stabbing her with my pink umbrella, "it was kind of a dry summer."
"Humph," was all she said before she plinked some money into the jar and minced back to her SUV with half-dozen of my "small" cobs in her bag.
"Never mind her," I whispered to my corny friends as I rearranged them in the cooler. "I think you're just right."
On the second day, I came out to find one of D's uncles filling up a bag. I was tickled to think that one of D’s relatives, flush with agricultural knowledge and experience, would stop to try some of our corn. We chatted about the heat as he filled his bag, but the words stopped coming out of my mouth when D’s uncle casually chucked a cob over his shoulder into the ditch.
“No good,” he said without looking up.
"Oh,“ was all I could manage.
"Some other ones were no good either, so I just chucked ‘em for you.”
"Right," I said, looking at the ditch. “I guess I’m kind of new at this.”
“That’s okay,” said D’s uncle with a smile as he tossed another reject over his shoulder. “You’ll get the hang of it.”
I resisted the urge to rescue the cast-offs when he left, and vowed to be more choosy during my next round of picking.
I'd put a sign out in the morning to indicate "MORE CORN AT 3 p.m." so that customers would know to expect fresh stuff in the afternoon. My hope was to catch all the people coming home from work between 3 and 5 p.m. and entice them with sweet corn for their suppers.
The sign caught at least one guy’s attention; as I pulled the truck up one afternoon, I saw a car parked at the end of our driveway with a young man leaning against it. It was 2:55 p.m.
As I hopped out of the truck, he called, “Right on time!” and dove into his back seat to retrieve two empty bags.
“You must really like corn,” I said as I filled up the cooler.
“I've actually never done this before,” he said, watching me intently.
I paused. “You’ve never bought sweet corn before?”
He shook his head. “Not from a real farmer.”
I almost swooned with pride. He thought I was a farmer! How cute.
“We live in Thunder Bay,” he continued, hovering behind me, “but we’re visiting my parents at a cottage and my daughter loves corn. I saw your sign this morning, and, well....”
I smiled encouragingly and waved him toward the cooler. “Well, you won’t get it any fresher than this. Help yourself.”
He hesitated, shifting from one foot to the other. “How do you pick a good one?”
Buddy, I thought, you are so asking the wrong person. I winged it.
“Well, uh, the heavier ones are more...mature. So they taste...chewier. The lighter coloured cobs are younger, and sweeter. So it depends on what you prefer, I guess.” Then I sighed and decided to be perfectly honest. “And some of the cobs are a little small, because we had such a dry summer.”
I saw his eyes flick over to the towering, robust rows of my father-in-law’s field corn beside our laneway.
“Um, that’s feed corn. For cows,” I told him. “Not the same thing.”
Thunder Bay guy looked embarrassed. I felt bad. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that I didn’t know the difference between cow corn and sweet corn. To make up for it, I told him to take an extra half dozen for free since he was from out of town. His face lit up.
And so it went for the next ten days. Some customers were so sunny and pleasant, and so appreciative of being able to buy fresh corn that I wanted to give it to them for free. And some...well, I just wanted to feed them corn smut.
We sold almost everything we picked, but since we planted late and the summer was so hot, our yields weren't good and sales seemed to be over before they'd begun. We almost broke even on what D paid for seed, which I thought was pretty good for our first year. We even had people come to the door asking if we had any left. It was deeply satisfying to say, "Come back next year."
I packed up my sign and umbrella for the season, and shared a giggle with the bank teller when I deposited approximately ten pounds of rolled coins. Kimber of the corn was done for the year, having survived smut, raccoons, heat and the occasional insult. And best of all, I'd passed hubby's "test" without asking for help.
"You did good, Kimmy," D said as we walked back to the field and surveyed the dried-out husks and stalks that remained. "Next year, we'll do even better."
Damn right we will!