Looking for a Red Ear

We have no doubt the readership has husked corn before, six ears or so preparatory to having corn on the cob for dinner, and found it an easy task. When you have an entire corn harvest, which must be husked before it can be ground into corn meal, the task must have seemed particularly daunting to your average farmer, but he had a ready-made solution steeped in American tradition. After the corn had been harvested sometime between the middle of August and early September, depending on the rains, he piled the whole of it into his barn, and sent invitations around to the young men and women of the neighborhood, inviting them to a corn-husking frolic.

Now, merely attaching the word “frolic” to a particularly mundane task smacks of Tom Sawyer and his whitewash, and so the farmer and his family provided some inducements. There was an elaborate feast; often a whole roast pig, fresh bread, venison, chicken and a whole host of pies for desert. The corn husking frolic provided the chance to mingle with the opposite sex, which was no doubt relished by farmer’s son’s who’d just spent the entire spring and summer on a plow looking at nothing more attractive than the rear end of a mule. The suntanned women of the plains no doubt appreciated the chance to get out of the kitchen, and the opportunity to mingle and show off a new dress.

There was one final inducement. As they husked, and as the piles of yellow corn grew larger, the young men kept a lookout for a mutation, a red ear of corn. Not quite as hard as searching for a needle in a haystack, but only one or two of the ears out of the gigantic pile would be red. It was however the true prize, because the man who found a red ear of corn got to kiss a girl of his choosing. The caption accompanying our picture states:

What laughing and talking and romping, as the dry leaves were plucked from the ear! What expectations in female bosoms, as the false alarm of “Red Husk” would be cried when some knight, not an Apollo, lucked an ear that was a little tinged. What sly jokes went about as to which of the girls the lucky finder would kiss, that being his free full right and privilege; and when at length the talisman was found, what a shout of triumph from the discovery, and what a trepidation and giggling amongst the girls! Our illustration represents a husking party at the moment when the red husk has been unearthed. The gentleman is about to not only claim, but to enforce, his privilege, and, from the expression in the lady’s face, it is not improbable that she fully expected this mark of esteem should the husk be found by this particular cavalier.

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