When Pap was a boy, corn was the most important crop folks grew-I guess it still is for many farmers. Corn not only helped people survive through the winter, it was also necessary to ensure the farm animals survived the winter months too.
Here in the Southern Highlands of Appalachia, it was typical for folks to leave their corn in the field until it had been frosted on a few times and was completely dried out before the process of gathering was started. The corn in those days was different from the sweet corn most of us are familiar with today. It’s often called field corn.
Pap’s family’s first step in the process was to top the corn. The tops of the corn stalk were cut out just above the ears of corn. As they gathered several tops and bundled them together they became tops of fodder for the animals. Pap said tops could be stored out in the field and didn’t have to be stored in a shed or barn. The topping portion took up to a week or more to complete depending of course on how much corn you had.
The second step was to gather shocks of fodder. They would go back to each stalk and pull all the dried leaves from it, tying the leaves into shocks of fodder. Pap said these were usually kept inside the barn or corn crib. This process also took about a week or so depending on the amount of corn.
The last part-was actually gathering the ears of corn. Pap said folks in this area sometimes waited as long as December to gather the corn. Leaving the ears on the stalk longer ensured the corn was completely dried out. After gathering the corn, most folks left the shucks on until they needed to use the corn. Pap said leaving the shucks on helped deter mice and weevils from getting in your corn. Although, Pap does recall some folks hosting corn shucking parties where folks gathered to shuck corn and visit with one another.
Pap’s favorite part of gathering corn was the camaraderie. Neighbors would join together to help one another with their corn. Pap said the women would always cook a big meal for the men to eat. Even though they were working in the field all day, Pap said corn gathering was still fun to him.
Recently Pap and I have been assisting a local historian document the oldest houses in our area. One day last, week Pap took us to the old Bollard place. I’ve drove past the old house my whole life and never realized it was there-tucked back in the woods.
We were amazed the house still had a few personal items in it even though it is falling down and slowly being reclaimed by nature. While we were there Pap’s memories started bubbling up to the surface of his mind and he recalled one corn gathering dinner from his childhood that took place in the old home.
After a day spent in the field the men were sitting down to eat. A team of horses with a wagon load of corn was standing by a couple of sheds up above the house. There was also a team of steer hitched to a wagon full of corn. The steer had real long curved horns. Pap said something spooked the steer and they took off on their own, running into the horses. One of the horses was cut by a steer horn. The horn sliced the horse’s stomach open and part of it’s insides came out. Pap said he’d never forget his Grandpa washed the horse’s guts off with soapy water and tucked them back inside it’s stomach and sewed the wound up with a piece of sea grass string. The horse lived.
Nature has laid claim to the old homeplace. It’s hard to envision the woods surrounding the house being open enough for wagons to travel through, hard to imagine folks gathering to eat in the old house. But the wagons, the corn, the food, and the sea grass stitches are still there, locked in Pap’s memories.
This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig and the Acorn in 2009.