The Corn Roast

and Katy's old beau comes to call
A rather corny story.
September. 1966

Dear Nephew Ray

The car that pulled into our drive was so big and impressive as to be almost frightening.

"It only lacks a crest on the door!" Martha said as we peeked through the curtains. Josiah had gone to supervise preparations for that evening's corn roast and I was sure this visitor was for him.

"My, what a handsome man. He must be an old beau of yours, Aunt Katy. I'll go fix some iced tea and leave you alone." and Martha left me to answer the doorbell.

"Don't you know me, Cat?" His hair was white but his dark teasing eyes still flashed under bushy brows and his voice was still the same, deep, resonant, and filled with laughter mixed with tenderness.

It was Bartley Fallon, the great hulking Irishman who had won all our respect and not a few girlish hearts when he joined our high school class so many years ago.

"Cat, dear girl, do you not know me at all?" his tone was wistful.

"Know you, Bartley Fallon? Do I not? You who took my first kiss and stole my heart with it? I'd know your voice and the gleam in your eye anywhere. Beside, no one else ever called me that hideous name. Cat, indeed! Come in here and tell me all the mischief you've been up to these long years."

Tell me he did, with my hand firmly imprisoned in his the whole time, much to Martha's delight. The more he talked, the thicker grew his brogue until he had both of us using it too, what little chance he gave us to speak. He told of the countries he had worked and visited in, of adventures both reasonable and incredible, but all with that charming twinkle in his eye.

"I must go now. Do you come to the door with me, Cat. I've a mind to return a thing of yours I have had these many years."

"What have you had of mine, Bartley, I can not think." I smiled as we stood on the wisteria-shaded porch.

"It was yourself reminded me, dear girl, only this short time past. I think I'll not have the chance to bring it back another time for the years roll on a-pace. So here, my Cat, is what I took from you one other summer and have treasured ever since."

Would you laugh if I told you that the kiss Bartley "gave back" to me I returned to his keeping? Or that I shed a few tears on his shirt-front for sweet old friendship so long forgotten yet still so dear?

Only Martha would have waited just long enough after Bartley's car roared away before she bundled me off for a rest until time to leave for the corn roast. The darkened room and witch hazel-soaked pads to "rest" my eyes worked wonders and I was ready for the fun when Young Joe came by for us.

The only real place for a corn roast is at the edge of the corn field, and that was where we were to picnic that evening. Four generations gathered around the carefully tended fire presided over by Frank and Dan. An unfolded metal table held food and dishes but everyone was expected to perch his plate on a log or balance it on his lap.

Red and white hots sizzled at one end of the grill while rows of roasting-ears steamed in their husks at the other. Son Frank sprinkled water over the corn with a whisk of hay while son-in-law Dan turned hots with an outsize pair of tongs.

The table groaned under its load of rolls, hot baked beans, potato chips by the carload, crisp vegetable salads, sliced tomatoes and onions as well as cold drifts of sauerkraut to heap on the hots. There were pickles, olives, and relishes of every description and, an innovation, several squeeze bottles of margarine. Even Josiah was seen happily squishing margarine on his corn in spite of his oft loudly voiced preference for butter.

A huge smoke-blackened coffee pot nestled in the coals. Well iced lemonade was ladled from the wash-boiler with a dipper that once hung in my kitchen.

Mounds of fruited jello gently melted into flavorful streams which overflowed and trickled stickily over the edge of the table to provide endless delight to our insect guests. A watermelon in a newspaper-covered nest of ice in an old washtub awaited the knife.

Three delicious cakes were reduced to crumbly shambles and enough hot dogs were dropped by excited children to satisfy the rapacious appetites of their half dozen doggy comrades.

How much Josiah and I ate will remain a secret between us and our Alke-Seltzer bottle. How much the children ate is unbelievable. Suffice it to say that I doubt any one ate picnic left-overs the next day.

Two great logs were set on the fire after the cooking grate was removed. They blazed merrily in a short time and we were glad to draw near their warmth for the air cools quickly when the sun goes down. Children soon left their games of tag and tree climbing to settle on a comfortable lap or wrap two or three together in a blanket.

Laughter and conversation gradually stilled until Frank began singing "Old Black Joe". Stephen Foster, Gilbert and Sullivan, folk songs, favorite hymns, all were sung as drowsy children fell asleep and our backs grew as cold as our fronts were hot.

When Josiah, Martha and I came away, they were still singing. It was a pretty sight to look back down the lane at our children silhouetted against the leaping flames. A special kind of ending for a very special day.

Uncle Jos sends regards as do I,

Your Aunt Katy