My father’s darkroom.
Back when he was alive, I would spend countless hours sitting down there with him. The soft red couch he had is still there and feels familiar to my skin as I tuck my legs under myself and close my eyes. This room is where I go to do serious thinking – it’s quiet and calming and all mindblocks vanish as soon as I close the heavy, carved mahogany door behind me.
The air is cool in an unusual way for late June in upstate New York, and a soft breeze moves around the smell of the developing chemicals – stored in neat rows behind a dark curtain to keep them safe from light – and it heightens my memories even more. Graceful white lace European-style curtains flit about like ghosts keeping me company. Carefully folded and packaged in brown paper, Mom brought them back from Poland with her on her last trip, and now, the characteristic delicate cutouts in the material let me play peek-a-boo with the golden afternoon sun as it flickered and slivered into a million different shards of glittering lights against the walls. Against the countless black and white photographs Dad took over the years.
Nothing has been touched since my dad died. It’s all still there just as he left it, and in the summer afternoon quiet, punctuated only by my five girls laughing outside somewhere, I swear I can hear WMHT – the classical station he ALWAYS listened to (the ONLY station he ever listened to) – playing softly from the radio in the corner.
A quiet tapping, low on the heavy door, snapped me back. “Grammy wants to know if you want corn on the cob,” my eight-year old pushed on the ornate door, “she says they’re on sale this week for nineteen cents an ear”.
We looked at each other and laughed.
Corn invokes so many wonderful thoughts for me.
Acres and acres of the yellow ears – providing me with so much fun growing up. It blanketed the earth as my father and I flew from tiny rural airports together. It covered so much land that when our plane cut through the air, it seemed like a sea of gold. When we did aerobatics, it became a kaleidoscope of colors -yellow corn, blue sky, green fields and white puffy clouds – we spun and swirled like a ballet dancer. Or a gymnast. And I always held my breath. Marveling.
The heavy ears, husks and all, were carefully placed in campfires in Poland, along with potatoes and sometimes whole chickens. Then, after a lot of singing and joke-telling (and wodka and wisniowka) – they were carefully handed out, home-churned butter and ramekins of coarse salt passed around, the boys prepping the burning hot stuff for the girls. And soon our fingers were dripping with the taste memories are made of – carefree nights under the stars and sweet salty butter lingering on our lips and fingers.
It created the spooky mazes I spent hours lost in with friends in the last days of Octobers in my youth, stealing kisses and scaring the others lost in there.
“No Mom,” my oldest pushed me past the corn display the last time we went shopping, “I have issues eating food that looks the same coming out as it does going in.” She steered me toward the lettuce, “Besides, remember that documentary we watched?”
She was right. A few months ago, on a particularly yucky, rainy day, we all curled up on our beloved sky-blue CordaRoy bean bag chair and watched a Netflix movie called “King Corn”.
In a nutshell, it was a very well done documentary showing how scary it is how much of our diet consists of corn. And not the kind of corn I remember as a girl in Poland – the “edible sunshine” kind. This stuff in our stores is apparently NOTHING like the corn from 30 years ago from a nutritional standpoint. And after a lot of “research”, the girls and I came to our own conclusions regarding things like the corn problem and buying from local farmers as opposed to overpaying for plastic-packaged “organic” foods. The lesson made us all acutely aware of the problem and we have become ridiculous about reading our food packaging and eating healthy. (Except on holidays and parties, of course…then, well, then there are no rules – except, enjoy yourself).
It’s pretty funny how we get all excited to find something that does not contain corn in some fashion – we’re in awe – like discovering a rare jewel.
“My strawberries soaked in chocolate vodka have nothing made from corn,” my best friend Randi laughed later that evening as we Skyped, “just these, great, big, juicy strawberries from my garden, vodka from Polish potatoes and a good time for everyone on the Fourth. See?” she held up a beautiful chocolate-hugged strawberry and took a dainty bite out of it, “So quit stalling, finish packing up your stuff and MOVE HERE TO MYRTLE BEACH already!”