Four Dollars a Dozen

I caught sight of the sign posted by the side of the road: “Sweet Corn, $4.00/dozen.” On a whim I pulled off onto the dirt lane to find an elderly man turning his truck around. To my chagrin I saw that there were only a couple ears of corn lying on the wooden stand.

The man stopped and opened the truck door. “Looking for some corn?” he asked. “How many you want?”

“I’ll take half a dozen if you’ve got some.”

The man counted the ears. “Only three here, but I’m heading down to the field to pick some more. You’re welcome to follow me down if you like. I’ll be back in twenty minutes.”

I nodded. “I’ll follow you,” I said.

We pulled out onto the macadam road. It was a short drive to the field. I followed his truck through the break in the trees and parked behind him in the grassy meadow.

The man disappeared in among the stalks of corn while I waited at the edge. A cool breeze dampened the early afternoon heat of the sun. I looked out over the expanse of the meadow and saw a monarch butterfly landing on some clover. Sounds of crickets reverberated in my ears. I thought about my boyhood days back in Pennsylvania farm country, and sucked in a deep breath of the sweet summer air.

It wasn’t long before the man reappeared, bearing a white plastic bag full of freshly picked corn. “Here you go,” he said, handing me the bag. “I’m not sure how many are in there, but there’s enough.”

“Thanks so much,” I said, handing him two dollars.

“It doesn’t come any fresher than that.”

“I guess not. I appreciate you offering to let me follow you out to the field. You’ve got a nice spread here. How many acres in all?”

“One hundred and fifty now, but we used to have over five hundred. Had to sell off a parcel up on the mountain side—a meadow where we used to put the heifers out to pasture. Didn’t have any real use for it after we sold the dairy herd back in 1985, although I did like to go up there on occasion just to walk around.”

“Pity you had to sell it.”

“I felt bad about it, but times change; and we needed the money to keep the farm going.”

“I grew up in farm country down in Pennsylvania. A lot of those family farms are gone now, turned into housing developments.”

The man nodded. “One good thing,” he said. “So far the fellow that bought the land from me hasn’t done anything with it. I’m happy about that.”

We stood together in silence for a moment. I noticed the man’s trifocals. “How many years have you been farming?”

“All my life,” he said. “Just celebrated my 79th birthday. I was born in 1928.”

“Good for you. You look like you’re in good shape.”

“Funny,” he said, “I don’t feel old at all. I’m fortunate that I can still put in a day’s work and feel good. The farm’s been in our family for three generations now, and my grandson thinks he’d like to take it on.”

“You must be proud,” I said.

“Well,” he said, “we’ll see if he can make a go of it. It would be nice to see the family continue to farm the land.”

The old man told me the name of the farm. It had a hyphenated name. “The second name is for my brother,” he explained.

“My brother was two years older than me. He enlisted in the service during the Second World War; went over to fight in Europe, but didn’t make it back. We got a letter from a fellow in his unit. They had been captured by the Germans, and the allies were shelling the area at the time. This fellow said a shell exploded near my brother. He didn’t know exactly what happened to him, but he told my parents that he didn’t think my brother made it, so they knew that much.

“Then, twenty years ago, we got a letter from the Department of the Army. They said they were in process of moving some graves in that area, and had written to the families of the dead. I guess some fellow wrote back to tell them that he had survived—he didn’t know who was in that grave, but it sure wasn’t him. So they opened the casket and found my brother’s dog tags with the remains. We decided to bring him home. He’s buried in the local cemetery just up the road.”

I stood still and watched the man’s face as he told the story.

“I didn’t know him that well,” he said. “We were never what you’d call close, but I remember going out in the back yard and throwing a football with him. He was a good egg.”

“It must be nice having him home again,” I said.

“You know, it is.” The man’s eyes got misty. “It was nice talking with you,” he said. “Enjoy the corn.”

“I will. Can I swing around here in the field to get back on the road?”

“Sure thing. I’ll go up and watch for traffic.”

I set the bag of corn down behind my seat and climbed into the car. The man was standing in the middle of the road, waving me out. I lifted a hand in greeting as I turned onto the pavement.

Four dollars a dozen; two dollars a half. Bargain prices for freshly picked sweet corn. I couldn’t help thinking that the old man had benefited from our brief encounter a bit more than just two dollars. I know that I had as well.

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