"She'll Be Comin' Round the Cornfield"

A week ago the sky had clouded over and it had rained hard throughout one entire night. Dad had stopped picking corn for a couple of days to let the cornfield dry out. When he started picking corn again, instead of warm and sunny as it had been only a week ago, the weather had turned cold and sunny. Very cold. So cold it was enough to make a person glad her mother had insisted she put on a stocking cap and mittens. And a winter coat. And winter boots. Even though the ground was bare and there was no snow anywhere.

My friends from school were also wearing stocking caps and mittens and winter coats and boots. We were lined up along the back of the corn wagon like those big stuffed animals in the booths at the county fair that you could win if you threw a ball and knocked down enough pins. The air was as clear and sparkling as the water in the spring running next to the driveway, and the sun glinted like the gold tooth that flashed in the smile of the man who worked at the feed mill in town. Yellow cobs of corn came out of the corn picker chute above the wagon and fell at our feet: thud — thud — thud-thud — thud-thud-thud-thud. I turned toward the girl sitting next to me, and we both grinned. My throat was already a little sore from yelling above the sound of the tractor and the corn picker, but we were sitting close together, so we could hear each other fairly well, at that.

“Hey! I know! Let’s sing!” suggested one of the other girls.


“Let’s sing!”

We looked back and forth at each other as more yellow cobs of corn fell into the wagon– thud — thud–thud-thud–thud.

“But,” one of my friends said, “what should we sing?”

Here in the wagon, with the bitter-cold wind behind us, the sun felt warm on my face. During the summer, the wagon was used for loading hay, but when fall arrived, Dad had attached the two-foot-high sides he used to keep the corn from spilling onto the ground. The wagon was painted red and so were the side pieces. The color reminded me of the Macintosh apples we had bought on a Sunday afternoon trip to an orchard not long ago.

I pulled my stocking cap down over my ears a little more as I considered what songs we could sing. I liked the one about “when Johnny comes marchin’ home again,” and then there was the one about the Camptown races and there was always Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. . .

“I know,” said one of the girls. “Let’s sing She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain.”

Just the other day we had sung She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain in music class. Our music teacher at school pushed a piano from room to room, and when she came to our room each week, we often learned a new song.

“But– we’re not going around any mountains!” another girl said.

Which was true enough. The cornfield — although not completely flat because it had a few small hills that Dad said were ‘rolling’ and that Mom called ‘knolls’ — was still one of the flattest fields on the farm. Dad had finished picking corn on our other place, a second farm my parents owned a mile away, and had now started picking corn in the field behind the big wooded hill we called the Bluff.

“How about. . .” one girl began, “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the. . .”

“. . .CORNFIELD!” shouted another girl.

“But what about the six white horses?” I asked.

“Well, let’s see. . .instead of six white horses, we can sing ‘she’ll be drivin'” . . .

Just then, Dad started to make another turn at the end of the cornfield.

“She’ll be drivin. . .THE RED TRACTOR!” we all shouted at the same time.

“What about the next part, though, about going out to greet her?” someone asked.

We all fell silent.

“I know,” I said, “instead of singing about going out to greet her, we can sing, ‘we’ll all ride on the wagon when she comes.'”

“Yeah, let’s do that!” someone said.

“But what about ‘killing the red rooster’ Do we have to kill the red rooster?” asked another girl.

One verse of the song talked about ‘killing the big, red rooster when she comes.’ Mention of the word ‘red’ made me think of red apples.

“We can sing, ‘we’ll bob for red apples when she comes,'” I said.

“It might work out better,” another girl said, “if we sing ‘we’ll bob for bright red apples when she comes.'”

We waited until Dad finished making the turn and corncobs were once again falling at our feet.

“Are you ready?” I asked. “Okay, let’s start now — ”

“She’ll be comin’ round the cornfield when she comes.

“She’ll be comin’ round the cornfield when she comes.

“She’ll be comin’ round the cornfield, she’ll be comin’ round the cornfield, she’ll be comin’ round the cornfield when she comes.”

By the time we reached the last ‘when she comes’ I could hardly sing anymore. Every time I drew a breath to sing, a giggle bubbled up into my throat. My friends appeared to be having the same problem.

A while later, after the last giggle was gone, we were able to breathe again.

“She’ll be drivin’ the red tractor when she comes,” one of my friends sang out.

We all joined in.

“She’ll be drivin’ the red tractor when she comes.

“She’ll be drivin’ the red tractor, she’ll be drivin’ the red tractor, she’ll be drivin’ the red tractor when she comes.

“Ohhhh, we’ll all ride on the wagon when she comes. We’ll all ride on the wagon when she comes. We will all ride on the wagon, we will all ride on the wagon, oh we’ll all ride on the wagon when she comes.

“We will bob for bright red apples when she comes. We will bob for bright red apples when she comes. We will bob for bright red apples, we will bob for bright red apples, we will bob for bright red apples when she comes.”

Once more, we had to wait for the giggles to go away. Then we started in again with —

“She’ll be comin’ round the cornfield when she comes.

“She’ll be comin’ round the cornfield when she comes.

“She’ll be comin’ round the cornfield, she’ll be comin’ round the cornfield, she’ll be comin’ round the cornfield when she comes.”

For the past few minutes, I had noticed Dad glancing back at us with a tight-lipped expression. I often saw Dad press his lips together like that, usually when something happened that made him want laugh out loud, but he knew if he did, Mom would be upset. “Don’t encourage her, Roy,” Mom would say if she caught him smiling at me. Even though my mother was not out in the cornfield with us, I figured Dad had gotten so much practice at not smiling, he had decided maybe he’d better not smile.

After a few more times of singing “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Cornfield,” the wagon was full — or as full as the wagon could get. A mound of corn in the middle sloped down to the two-foot-high red sides but only reached part of the way toward the back of the wagon where we were sitting.

At the end of the cornfield, Dad stopped the tractor, climbed down and walked past the corn picker. He paused at the front of the wagon and reached for an ear of corn, held the cob to his nose, and then, using both hands, snapped it in two. The corncob broke — snick.

Dad nodded and tossed the halves back onto the mound.

“Sounds like you’re having a good time,” he said.

My father had pulled down the earflaps of his cap and had turned up the collar of his blue denim chore jacket. His face was red from the cold wind, and his blue eyes looked as blue as the sky.

“Can we ride on the wagon some more?” asked one girl.

“We have to take the load up to the corncrib and unload it,” Dad said, “but after that, you can ride around on the next load, if you want to.”

“Yayyyyy!!” I said.

“Thanks Mr. Ralph!” said one of the girls.

“I never knew picking corn was so much fun!” another girl said.

All along I had hoped that a Halloween party with my friends from school was going to be fun. I had never had a Halloween party before. A couple of weeks ago, I had asked if I could have one, although at first, my mother was not enthusiastic about the idea. Later on, after my big sister, Loretta, offered to drive my friends home on Saturday afternoon, Mom gave her permission for a party.

So, yesterday — the Friday before Halloween — four of my friends got on the bus with me after school. In the evening we bobbed for Macintosh apples in Mom’s old, round, dented aluminum dishpan, played several games of Bingo and Old Maid, ate popcorn balls Loretta had helped me make Thursday night — and laughed until we almost made ourselves sick.

A couple of times, Mom told us not to laugh so much. “If you keep laughing like that, the next thing you know, you’ll be crying,” she said.

From the time I was a very little girl, Mom had told me not to laugh too much because it would be make me cry. So far, it hadn’t happened, but that didn’t stop Mom from telling me it would.

After a while, my big sister had intervened on our behalf. That’s what my mother said when my sister, or my brother, or Dad thought maybe Mom should try not to be quite so strict — she said they were ‘intervening on my behalf.’

“Mother,” I had overheard Loretta say last night, “they’re girls. And that’s what they’re going to do at a Halloween party is laugh.”

My mother had sighed, and with a ‘Heaven help me’ look on her face had said, “Well, yes, I suppose you’re right.”

Today, after we had eaten breakfast — pancakes Dad had made when he came into the house after doing the morning milking, because pancakes were his specialty — we spent the rest of the morning playing with the calves and the cats, riding my pony, Dusty (with my big sister standing by to supervise to make sure no one got hurt, which was Mom’s idea), and climbing the willow trees across the road from our driveway.

Climbing the willow trees seemed just dangerous enough to be fun. The willow trees grew at the edge of the marsh along the road, and if we weren’t careful and fell out of the tree, we would land in the shallow pools of water standing among the bunches of brownish-yellow marsh grass.

When we grew tired of climbing the willow trees, dinner was nearly ready, and we discovered that Mom had made hamburgers and macaroni and cheese. After we had finished eating and had stacked our plates by the kitchen sink, one of the girls asked what we were going to do next.

And that’s when I discovered the awful truth.

I had run out of ideas.

And we still had the rest of the afternoon before my sister was planning to take everyone home. Dad was getting ready to go outside again and had finished zipping up his chore jacket and putting on his chore cap. With his hand on the doorknob, he had turned to us and said that if we wanted to, we could ride on the wagon while he picked corn.

For two whole loads, we rode up and down the cornfield behind the corn picker in the bright sunshine and the cold wind.

Lucky for us my father didn’t mind listening to so many performances of “She’ll Comin’ Round the Cornfield.”

Or maybe he did — because that was both the first and the last time I ever rode behind the corn picker, by myself or with friends.

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