My cousin and her husband are on a river cruise in Europe. Our neighbors are down the Shore. Our pals, the mountain/lake diehards, are celebrating summer in the Poconos. My husband and I? We’re pulling up to the local farm stand with the delight of kids rushing out to play.

Every summer, we immediately head for our favorite spot, the old table heaped with our version of pirate’s booty. We dig in. Vic does the final picking, because he claims the better credentials: he grew up on a New Jersey farm.

After some deliberation, he presents six perfect, fresh, gorgeous ears of summer corn. We are both triumphant. For us, July in South Jersey has its rewards. Farm-fresh corn is one of them. Corn is honest and simple food. Corn, you can trust.

Some of my happiest childhood memories are wrapped around corn: where I was when I ate it, who was there with me and yes, how those crisp, steamy kernels burst into sweetness in my mouth.

I can remember husking corn with my cousins on the porch of the seashore house we shared for years, and I can still summon up the sense memory of eager little hands stripping the husks from each ear. It was all so foolishly wonderful, as innocent and sweet as the corn that had been picked when its tassels were moist and still silky. That remembering brings a lump to my throat.

Our family had an ongoing debate about white vs. yellow corn. We took it all quite seriously, with my father and I holdouts for yellow. I still think we were right.

When our own daughters were small, we introduced them to the treat that reached beyond candy or cupcakes or even ice cream – or so we told them. Basic summer corn on the cob became a guarantee of instant gratification, especially when it was fresh from the field and cooked as simply as possible in a huge pot that steamed up the kitchen windows.

While there were plenty of things that disappointed them – less-than-loyal friends, bullies, teachers who were mean – corn never, ever did. Jill, Amy and then Nancy revealed personality traits as they approached their corn.

Jill, the patient, contained sister could linger over her prize, saving the best – the kernels around the middle of the cob – for last. Amy, always a bit more impetuous, would dive in and devour. And Nancy, the perfect blend of her sisters, was methodical only after a kamikaze start.

I was thinking of all this on the recent summer night when my husband and I sat at the kitchen table positively exulting in plump, ripe tomatoes and steaming ears of corn. The colors – the textures – and yes, the glorious tastes seemed a remarkable gift on this stifling, summer night when the world was in its usual mess.

The silence between us was that absolutely comfortable kind. No words were needed as two old-marrieds sat at that familiar kitchen table. As twilight settled, we reveled knowing the simplest pleasures are sometimes the best ones of all.

A summer night. Temporary freedom from work burdens, anxieties about this grandchild or that one, from the drudgery of household chores and the relentless barrage of another anchorman reminding us that wars still rage and human beings still murder one another.

Just the Friedmans celebrating nothing more – or less – than the pleasures of fresh corn and early summer tomatoes, gladly eaten in a safe and cherished home. In the distance, a dog barked and a child laughed. It was the good old summertime in South Jersey. And there was corn in our lives.

Who needs a European river cruise?

July 2015
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