I’ll become an honest woman yet! Believe me, it isn’t easy but today I made a giant step. Those of you following this blog with any kind of continuity probably already know that I am given to stealing… corn. That may sound strange. There are people who steal money, who steal their taxes, who steal jewelry, who steal children… people can steal anything, ideas are stolen, wallets and identities are stolen, dreams and art are stolen. Anything that is and has an owner is up for bids and anyone that wants it, is a potential thief. Some people enjoy stolen goods more than something they had paid for with hard earned cash: it’s the thing and the thrill all rolled into one. So I steal corn. The corn is there, it belongs to someone else, I enter the field and steal it. I have done this ever since I began coming to Salies in the summers and since I have been living here, I have continued.
The reason I steal corn (every thief that prides him or her self on being an honest-to-goodness filcher will have a “reason” for doing what they do which in their mind justifies the pilferage) is because there is nowhere around here that sells it, at least not fresh corn, in spite of the fact that this is Corn Country, in capital letters. There are plenty of little cans and medium cans and big cans of sweet corn in the supermarket, but I don’t eat canned corn just as some people don’t pay their taxes and others don’t do an honest day’s work because there is plenty of money around for the picking.
Around here, all I have to do is walk out of my building to run into a corn field; I can’t drive a kilometer on the road without passing three or four, ninety nine percent of which are planted with fodder corn. Fodder corn is the worst kind of corn imaginable. However, I have found that if it is picked very, very early, cooked somewhat longer than its tasty cousin (sweet corn) and slathered with butter, it can pass for a meager excuse of good old american brand sweet corn like what granma used to buy at the corner stall in the market. That is how much I like corn!
So ever since I began coming to Salies, and more so since I have lived here, I have been stealing corn. I very quickly learned how to tell the tenderest ears without husking them, and would never take more than two or three at a time (I’m a proven liar, too, because I count 5 ears in the basket). I also learned how to know when a field would not yield any more edible ears. If you consider that I have been coming here since 2007 every summer and lived here since 2010, that adds up to quite a bounty of corn!
When I checked into internet to see what I could find about fields of sweet corn, I discovered that some people have turned this stealing corn into a business. In Bristol, Conn., for example, there was the following on the news last August 5th: “A thief or thieves who knew what they were doing stole 20 row of corn right off the stalks at a Bristol farm over the weekend.” It wasn`t me, scouts honor! Apart from the fact that I was nowhere near Bristol on that date because I was climbing up the Machu Picchu mountain in Peru, I doubt very much that I could have carried, hidden or consumed 20 rows of corn.
Anyway, to cut to the chase, two years ago I was driving to Navarrenx, which is about 35 minutes from Salies, for an appointment with my osteopath when I spotted a field of very green fresh-looking corn. It was the month of September and all the fields of corn were beige and dry with the cornsilk so black it looked as if it had been charbroiled already. The kernels themselves had lost any juice of which they could have once boasted, and wouldn’t have looked appetizing but to a cow or a pig. So a field of corn stalks that were upright, bright green and frankly inviting, was like a red flag. I quickly turned the car around (the field was on the other side of the highway) and pulled into an uneven dirt road that ran between a field of utterly dry, unappetizing corn and this miraculously tempting stuff. There were the ears, sticking right up as bright and perky as a puppy’s, and who was I to resist what I judged to be a late or perhaps second crop. I picked a couple of ears and went on my way to the osteopath. That evening I husked the corn; the kernels were shiny and plump, much shinier and plumper than anything I had picked so far in Salies. I pinched one and tasted. It was sweet! Not really believing I had been that lucky, I pinched another one and popped it into my mouth: like honey! I had discovered a field of sweet, tender corn!
That was the year of 2012 and all through the month of September, I ate magnificent corn. Then, one week when I drove back savoring on the way the corn I would have that night, I found the field harvested, there was nothing but shreds of corn stalks and a few crushed ears lying destitute on the earth. The bonanza was over; I accepted that I would have to wait another year, but I knew now where the field was and never again would I have to eat fodder corn no matter how young and tender.
In 2013, I anxiously awaited August when the young corn plants in MY field would begin to sprout, but nothing happened. Nothing but the disorderly ground cover was growing in the field. September rolled around and I had to admit that whoever was responsible for the field was not going to plant my good corn that year, so I went without.
Hope springs eternal, however, and this year I began watching again from July on. Towards the end of July, right before I went to Peru, I was rewarded with a sight that warmed my heart and made my mouth water: tiny sprouts of corn plants were beginning to break through the earth and open up to the sun. My corn! I calculated: by the time I got back from my trip around mid August it would just be beginning to form substantial cobs, not ready for picking yet, but promising nonetheless.
Sure enough, by September the corn was edible and I began harvesting my share. However, as I knew now that it was sweet corn, and I knew I would be wanting to take quite a bit, maybe even share with friends, I began thinking that I would like to find the owner and pay him or her and make a deal to be able to pick to my heart’s delight. I started watching for signs of someone tending the field. I wrote a note, placed it in an envelope and planned to leave it tied to a cornstalk, but the fact that I had put my phone number in it asking the owner to call me made me nervous, so I just carried it around in my car in case I ever found anyone. That way, at least, if I was caught stealing I could prove my intentions were good.
But September progressed and I ate corn at least twice a week and shared with friends, and no one showed up to beg permission from or pay for my harvest.
Today, October 1, it suddenly occurred to me after lunch, that the corn I had picked last week was very ripe and that the harvesting would probably happen soon and that I had better get my last batch in before this happened. As I drove, I prepared myself for the worst possible scenario: a field completely devastated and with not an ear of corn available, all gone -as I knew it probably did- to Green Giant for canning. Visions of an ear of corn dribbling butter passed through my frenzied mind as I drove as fast as possible, as if that would get me there in time.
Finally, I approached the field and my worst fears were semi-confirmed: they were in the process of harvesting the corn and had cut about half the field. I looked in dismay, but decided there was still corn for the picking. Turning around, I pulled into the usual dirt road. It was going to be difficult because the corn nearest the edges of the field had already been cut, so I would have to walk quite a distance to get to the stalks still standing. Plus anyone, from anywhere could see me (before it had been easy to hide amongst the tall corn stalks so that no one could see me while I hustled my load. As I pulled to a halt I observed at the far end of the field, quite distant from me, but visible, the harvesters and the trucks for loading the corn. It was obvious they would see me if I got out of the car and walked into the field, so I backed out onto the road again and went past the field looking for another access. There was one on the other side, not as wide or well formed but it was a path the car could get into; from there I would not be as easily seen. I was about to pull in and risk the walk across the field when suddenly I realized that here was my chance, the one I had waited for. Amongst the small group of men gathered at the foot of one of the loaded trucks, I would undoubtedly find the proprietor of the field and I could pay for my corn: I could become an honest woman. So, instead of pulling into the protected pathway, I drove back to the dirt road and turned in and drove all the way to the back of the field where the men were gathered. They were standing next to the truck loaded with corn and turned to watch as I approached. In my poor French, I asked who the owner was and the first man directed me to a nice looking young farmer who smiled as I picked my way over the clumps of plowed up field to where he was standing. By the time I got there I was laughing at myself: there I was, a 72 year old blond foreigner traipsing across a harvested field to tell this unknown man that I had been pinching his corn and would like to pay him for it. It was quite a laughable matter! But that is what I had come for and that is what I was determined to do.
First I asked if I could buy some of the corn that was on the truck, then I explained that I had found the field two years previously and had helped myself to some corn; that I was very disappointed the year before when there had been no corn (they were all smiling widely by then) and extremely happy that this year there had been some. When I finished speaking I couldn’t have felt sillier, but their eyes were kind and jolly. The owner proceeded to tell me that, today, the corn actually wasn’t his to sell anymore because it belonged to the taller gentleman at his side who was going to truck it to Green Giant (Geant Vert). I smiled and said that I had imagined as much as the corn was very good. Yes, he confirmed, it is special corn for Green Giant.
“But it is you I want to pay because it is your corn I have been pilfering all along.” By this time, I felt we were good friends all of us, crazy about corn each for his own reason, and I was actually enjoying the meeting, their faces were so open and sweet, like the corn. The owner asked if I had a bag and I said “yes”, it was in the car. We began walking back together.
“Are you going to plant corn again next year” I questioned, as if now I too were part of this business of sweet corn and Green Giant and friendly farmers who were willing to listen to a crazy lady telling them she had been helping herself to their corn without blinking an eye or looking annoyed. He said he didn’t know, that he would decide around January or February.
“Oh” I said, taking out my cell phone; “Would you give me your name and phone number so I can call you and see if you are going to plant next year” (I didn’t add ‘so that I can come and steal some more’ because I didn’t think it would sound too good). He immediately gave me his name and phone number which I registered under the name of CORN.
When we got to his van, he pulled out a small plastic bag which I immediately qualified as too small. In my car, I had a sack I usually carry Salomé’s stuff in when she goes to her caretaker that I produced without a quiver (I wonder now if he thought about how much corn I was going to pinch carrying a sack like that around). We went back to the truck, he climbed up and began filling the sack as I watched. Finally, when it looked as if I wouldn’t be able to carry it, I called out to stop. When he handed me the bag, I had been right: it weighed a ton! I put it down and asked how much I owed him for this corn and what I had snitched previously but, even before I asked, I knew deep down that he wasn’t going to let me pay, as turned out to be the case.
I said ‘thank you very much’, I said ‘I’ll call you in February’, I said ‘Thank you’ again. Mr. tall Green Giant picked up the heavy sack and said ‘I’ll take it to your car’. And I drove off with over 20 ears of corn.
So crime pays, but coming clean pays more, at least in corn, and today I am an honest woman who is calling all her friends to offer them corn on the cob, last batch for this year, honorably filched near Navarrenx with the help of its owners.