Like millions of others, our youngest child graduated from high school this month. “Millions have done it before you and millions will do it after you,” my husband was told when he signed up for the Barbri course to prepare for the bar exam. There is something everyday, you’re just a number about graduating from high school. In the U.S. it’s common and rates are at an all time high with 81% of students graduating. As I hung graduation lanterns over the patio and sent out announcements I couldn’t escape the “been there done that” rudimentary feeling…until driving home from Wisconsin put me face to face with thousands of baby corn plants.
Their simple rows of lime green spriteness reflected hope. Each of them owned the potential to give something back to their planter and maker despite their soft leaved vulnerability. “Knee high by the Fourth of July” seemed impossible with only four inches of growth on Memorial Day. With the right conditions their single growing season will produce abundant food, about 800 kernels on a single ear of 16 rows. By November, those soldiers left standing dry, brown and brittle will blow over with the first winter blast. Left unharvested, their final act feeds the soil to strengthen the next crop. Our son’s eighteen years felt about the length of one growing season, but was it beautiful, rich and nourishing enough to grow a self-sacrificing adult?
His little toe head of curls, one of which I keep tucked in a Limoges box on my dresser, felt the same as these first little corn leaves I stooped down to touch after pulling my car over. They also carry a soft curl before they toughen up in the face of sun, wind and rain. Making friends came easily for our young one and I wondered if these little plants become tight with their growing partners who share their space in just a few weeks. In every grade, desk partners and playground pals became friends out of convenience and necessity. He formed “The Purple Punk Club” with his skateboarding buddy in first grade – their mission – stealing the kindergartner’s ball. Naughty, but adorable boys. The corn plant doesn’t veer off mission unless deprived of nutrients and water. Did I water my little guy enough in those early years? Without water the tassels don’t form, there is no pollination, no kernels. I watered him with books and music, Berenstain Bears, Beatrix Potter and Yamaha Music School. As a graduate, he doesn’t read much for pleasure and would rather slam on his basement drums. Were those countless Berenstain bumbling stories enough to bear fruit in his developing soul? Well, drumming can be food for people. It aligns to their heartbeat and leads them into worship or it can offend and harm sensitive ears, a.k.a. his 82 year old grandmother. What happens with those drums is not my decision now.
Precious few of us know at eighteen what we want to be when we grow up. When he built his first drum set at three years old out of cookie tins and oatmeal containers we suspected. Dozens of concerts and thousands of practice hours later, our suspicion is confirmed. Come harvest time his hands and heart will be cultivating a new field in a new state with new gardeners, but the beating of the drum still pounds out his growing song.
One proper growing season can produce millions of ears of milky white corn kernels, enough to feed a country for a year. One tiny house on the corner of President street and Liberty sends its youngest child off to college, but the tassel of golden silky hair remains in my Limoges box. The mother’s privilege is to take it out and ponder it’s possibilities when the silence of beating drums in this house produces a relieved sigh, an empty ache or a hunger. I’ll stop to savor a buttery rich ear of corn with a nice cold glass of pinot gris and toast the truth that although they all travel off to plant their own field, the farmer’s job is never done.