For the past six years or so, we’ve lived without corn holders. We had a set once, but piece by piece they got lost or broken. At first, with just a single corn holder missing, we managed by making the last person who was served make do with one holder, but the corn kept falling off the single holder that the user was desperately trying to maintain with one hand. That last person was usually me, so no one else cared until we began losing more corn holders. The person without would have to wait until someone with corn holders finished, and then they would be passed to the holderless person. Either that, or the holderless person had to try and stick toothpicks in either end. The last resort was my favorite: two salad forks, which looks too ludicrous to eat with.
I don’t know why I never managed to buy corn holders before now. I just never seemed to remember it when I was passing those tiny yellow plastic corn shaped implements in the house ware aisle. So when I was at a local yard sale and spotted a sandwich bag full of nine corn holders, I snapped it up as if I had found the last pair of Ferragamos at a Bergdorf Goodman sale. That night at dinner I made sure we had corn on the cob. Yessir, it was a red letter day for the family when every single person at the table had his and her own set of corn holders. I held the family at riveted attention as I relayed the story of how I paid a quarter for that bag of corn holders. “That comes to about two cents per holder,” I said. The day of the corn holder has to be the best day I’ve had in quite awhile. Having a complete set of corn holders has given my family a feeling of pride, affluence, and sophistication we rarely experience. I’ve long been certain that families who live in nice houses and who drive deluxe SUVs do not have to make do with forks or toothpicks sticking out of their corn cobs. I think corn holders must be one of those defining items that separate society’s elite from those shabby, unknowing, desperate little people who yearn for class but have no idea how to cross that line into the higher realm where opportunity and privilege open with ease for those who revolve in its ethereal circles.
“Why, I believe that’s Reginald Dudley Durfield III over there. He’s quite adept with a set of those little plastic corn holders. Let’s invite him to join our board of directors for the new hospital wing. But the fellow to his left, that’s Marvin P. Chuckwalla. I heard his mother put salad forks in the ends of his corn. Try not to make eye contact.”
You see, this is the way the world works among the powerful. It’s always the little things, like corn holders, that hold you back.
I can’t do a whole lot for my kids financially. But I can make them read Plato; I can force them to eat raw spinach; I can take them to museums and make them look at paintings by people with a variety of mental illnesses; I can even make them floss their teeth. And now, I have given them corn holders, one more tool in life to keep them from sinking in the bland morass of cultural ignorance and deprivation. Someday, years from now, my son will be observing a painting in a museum with friends and someone will make an astute comment about the artist’s technique, to which my son will reply, “Yes, but can he use a corn holder?”
I was a regular on Spindale public radio when I lived in America back before the new millennium, and these essays are from my collection.
Cathy Adams’ first novel, This Is What It Smells Like, was published by New Libri Press, Washington. Her short stories have been published in Utne, A River and Sound Review, Upstreet, Portland Review, Steel Toe Review, and Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, among others. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from PacificLutheranUniversity’s Rainier Writing Workshop and now lives and writes in Xinzheng, China, with her husband, photographer, JJ Jackson.
Round ornate portico with glazed tile roof, Vietnamese Fine Arts Museum, Hanoi, Vietnam.
The Goethe Institute for German language studies, Hanoi, Vietnam.