Corn shocks. Just like in that picture right there. See how small they look? Don't they look like you could just pluck one right off the side of that silo and toss it casually into your minivan with plenty of room left over for the Shakespeare crate, about four sacks of clothing waiting to be dropped off at Goodwill, a bag full of board games and a stack of outerwear to meet the needs of the current weather situation, which in the last week has gone from no-coat-necessary to full-on-winter-jacket-with-gloves?
Oh, and people. People have to fit in the van, too.
There's a little roadside market not far from our house that has corn shocks for sale and I decided I wanted a couple for the front porch. All a corn shock is, for you city-dwellers out there -- is a bundle of dried-up corn plants. The ones I bought cost $4 and they each contained ten stalks of corn plant, some with ears of field corn still clinging tenaciously. I felt that eight dollars was worth the pleasure the girls and I would have in seeing our house look so delightfully decorated, so we stopped on the way home from Shakespeare and went inside to see about the purchase of two shocks.
The owner of the market took my money and said agreeably, "You can take any of the ones out front that are tied to the building - they're all for sale." The building, I should mention, was adorably decorated with the corn shocks, bales of straw, pumpkins and chrysanthemums. I have deeply admired that outdoor decor every time we passed this place and felt moved to buy corn shocks from someone who was so obviously a kindred spirit.
I forked over the money and the girls and I went out. I was excited and happy; they were dubious and inclined to look from the corn shocks to me with raised eyebrows.
"Mom," said Meelyn in that patient let's-reason-with-a-hopeless-eccentric voice she uses when I propose to do something adventurous that she feels may detract from her personal dignity, "exactly how are we supposed to get those things in the van?"
With aplomb, I said, "We will untether them from the wall of this establishment, grasp them in our arms, and insert them into our vehicle through the tailgate. Easy-peasy, honey-beezy."
"Mom, those things are HUGE," Aisling hissed. "They are not going to FIT. They are TOO BIG."
She was right, I have to admit. For those of you who don't live around corn, let me tell you: Corn is big. Very tall. Like, "towering over our heads" tall. MUCH bigger than it looks from the road as you drive by it, although my husband, who worked as a corn detasseler in his youth, insists that the spiders that live in cornfields are EVEN BIGGER.
"They're not too big," I insisted with a confidence that I totally did not feel. "We can make this work! Where's your sense of fun and adventure?"
The girls both looked at me as if I was Sacagawea and I'd just told them -- Lewis and Clark -- that that little jaunt they were planning out west? Well, turns out it was going to be a bit more of a hike than they'd planned for. Only Lewis and Clark were men. Outdoorsmen, at that. Not a couple of whiny teenagers who kept saying "But I'm going to get CHAFF in my HAIR."
Undaunted, I untied the first bundle of stalks from the wall of the building and it fell into my arms like a tubercular lover in the last scene of the silent movie. I got chaff in my hair. And also in my eyes, nose and mouth. "Open the trunk!" I called to Meelyn, who scurried off while Aisling drew back disdainfully, whether from me or the corn shock, I'm not sure.
It took an incredible amount of stuffing and prodding and pulling to get that first corn shock into the van, but Meelyn and I persevered. We opened up both side doors and I noted with unease that the whole interior was a crazy wilderness of sharp, crackly mildewy leaves, like what might happen if Tim Burton made a movie about being lost in a field. I had great misgivings about the advisability of trying to get the second shock into the van, but I wasn't left with any choice: the market owner was closing the place down for the evening and I couldn't just leave my four dollars' worth of dead leaves just lying there, could I?
Aisling was of the opinion that not only could I, but I should. Because this was embarrassing. And people passing by on the highway were LOOKING. AT US. And OUR DUMB CORN. And it was obvious that the tailgate on the van wasn't going to be able to close and did I expect her, Aisling, to drive the remaining mile to our house with the tailgate open and DRY CORN spilling out the back, maybe accompanied by the game pieces and board from Monopoly?
I gave Aisling my standard speech:
1. No one cares about us and our corn
2. Thinking that they do care is a sign of excessive self-interest
3. Besides, isn't this how people get Christmas trees home?
4. If it's okay for Christmas trees, it's okay for corn shocks.
5. Well, okay then, you can stay at home while the rest of us pick out a tree this year.
While I was scolding Aisling, Meelyn and I were wasting no time in getting that second corn shock stowed away. I refused to admit this to either girl at the time, but the inside of the van looked INSANE. Completely filled up with leaves. Leaves everywhere, including out the back, drooping almost down to the street. I tried to rummage around for a bungee cord with which to truss the tailgate to the rear bumper so that the back of the van wouldn't seem to be so...so....looming, gaping open, as it were, to disgorge the entire contents of the van -- corn, games, Goodwill offerings and Shakespeare paraphernalia -- into the street, where it could possibly cause a traffic mishap.
Of course, there was no bungee cord available, so we drove off for home, hazard lights blinking cheerfully, tying up afternoon traffic in a snarl behind us which wasn't a terrible problem when we were on the four lane highway, but which became acutely embarrassing once we got into the city and went down to two lanes.
By the time we got to the house, all three of us were congested, watery of eye and itching from a thousand little hives. Aisling, no stranger to drama, wailed, "I'm DYING. I have HIVES! I ITCH SO BAD! I NEED A DOCTOR!"
Meelyn, stoic and nonplussed, merely parked the van, helped me unload the bundles of corn, tied them to the porch while I held them securely, and then pulled the van around the block to our driveway while I went in to measure out a dose of Benadryl for the three of us. She might have heaved a sigh of resignation somewhere along the way, but it was drowned out by Aisling's histrionics.
When my husband got home, Meelyn and I were both half-whacked from the antihistimines, but Aisling was as perky as Katie Couric emceeing the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
"Come look, Daddy!" she twittered. "We have a big surprise for you out front! You should have seen us bringing them home! It was SO MUCH FUN."