Popcorn and Me

Not many foods remain friends for life. Chocolate turned traitor during my teen years as I fought the Pimple Wars and later put on pounds. But popcorn has always been there for me.

My family owes its survival to popcorn. Mom faced two snack choices: a bale of hay or a dishpan-sized bowl of popcorn. While she threw handfuls of yellow seeds into a pan, we gathered close, quiet as if attending a theater performance — until the first pop pinged. Suddenly kernels exploded in a mad dance of joyful pop-pop-pops. A few sneaky ones fooled Mom and leaped out when she removed the lid — a punch line we enjoyed as if it had never happened before.

Fresh wonder filled me at seeing hundreds of fluffy white kernels, a miracle that rivaled the Feeding of the Five Thousand. If only candy bars multiplied like that!

As cornfields surrounded our house, I became convinced we were not utilizing a huge, free popcorn resource. My mother disagreed. But I filched an ear from a neighbor’s field and set it on fire anyway. Sadly, Mom was right — again.

Later we grew our own popcorn, including a “strawberry” variety. Hoeing the plants, I imagined the pink strawberry-sucker-flavored popcorn we would savor. At harvest, we shucked wine-colored kernels off little cones and waited breathlessly as Mom popped this amazing new treat. Only red hulls evidenced anything different about strawberry popcorn. After initial disappointment, though, we made a hit at school with our special red-and-white popcorn.

But the popcorn my siblings and I really craved was Jiffy Pop®. On TV commercials, smiling kids watched it rise like a silver Space Age balloon. I was sure the Jetsons ate Jiffy Pop®. Mom, however, vetoed it as too expensive.

When I, too, became a mean mother, plain old popcorn remained my friend. My children gathered as kernels tumbled in the air popper. Like my mother, I poured sizzling butter over theirs. Mine? I ate handfuls that tasted like Styrofoam packing peanuts. But they filled me up and kept me from expanding as much as Jiffy Pop®.

Now, growing older, I still cling to popcorn. Even the Jetsons would envy my microwave method. However, the time saved is used to read popcorn cautionary commandments on every bag, probably more than accompanied the original atomic bomb: HANDLE CAREFULLY: VERY HOT OIL & BAG! THIS SIDE UP! THIS SIDE DOWN! PICK UP HERE! PICK UP FROM OTHER END! OPEN CAREFULLY! HOT! CAUTION! OR YOU WILL DIE VERY, VERY SLOWLY WITH RADIOACTIVE POPCORN UP YOUR NOSE.

Is that any way to talk to a friend?

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What are your favorite popcorn memories?

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