When you’re 6, everything seems big.
And, when you’re 6 and you have a cousin who’s two months older than you and already 7, you listen. He is, after all, more knowledgeable than a 6-year-old.
Such was the case in the heat of the 1950 Iowa summer sun.
Three of us cousins – Russ, Virginia and I – were all born within a couple months in 1943 and we were all gathered at our farm home between Duncombe and Fort Dodge to celebrate our birthdays. We did that often back then somewhere between Russ’s birthday in July and mine and Ginny’s in September.
Russ and I were outside playing (Ginny didn’t come out to play because, well, she was a girl) when Russ announced, “Looks like your dad’s corn needs ‘tasslin’.”
“Tasslin’?” I asked, unknowingly.
We lived on a farm, but we didn’t farm. My dad was a gasoline tank truck driver for DX. I had no idea what my more worldly older cousin was talking about.
“See those things comin’ out the top of that corn?” Russ asked me, pointing to the tassels.
“Sure,” I replied.
“Well, those are tassels and it’s time to ’tassel them,” Russ said. He was a good teacher and I was a fast learner.
Although we couldn’t reach the top of the corn, Russ showed me that if you reached up and bent the stalk over, it was easy to ‘tassel the corn.
And, that’s just what we did.
With Russ and I both pulling, it wasn’t long before we’d pulled the tassel out of every corn plant in eight rows.
I was rightly proud of myself. I’d proven I could help around the place, after all.
Soon our parents called us in to open presents and have cake and ice cream.
When I was about half-way finished eating my cake and ice cream, I proudly announced, “Daddy, we ‘tasseled the corn.”
The look of horror on my father’s face told me that, just maybe, Russ had led me astray.
“You WHAT?” my dad asked in a voice that conveyed the opposite of what I expected.
“We ‘tasseled the corn,” I said.
At that, my father rose quickly, ran out the door to his garden and saw every tassel from eight rows of sweet corn lying on the ground.
My dad rarely did any spanking. You had to do something really, really bad before he’d raise a hand.
I must have done something really, really bad.
Russ’s dad was angry, too.
When he got angry, he called his son, “Russell.”
I heard a lot of “Russell” that day, even though I was more concerned with my own fate. I remember how bad it hurt when my dad had finished the lesson he taught me.
I lost a little bit of respect for Russ that day, too.
And, as I all too vividly remember, we didn’t have much sweet corn that year, either.