We were certain that we’d done something wrong; why else would our corn lie down on the job? We went over to Mamie’s shortly after sunrise to see about resetting it before Mamie saw the devastation. We knew that we hadn’t mounded our rows enough, and we couldn’t face her just then.
As I held each stalk straight, Richard trenched between the rows, gathering mud to build a support mound around each individual plant. Because the soil is heavy in clay, it stuck to the shovel like half-set cement. Most times Richard could release only half of each shovelful meant for the mound. The remainder went back with his next dip in the dirt. He could barely move his feet, as the clay had created lifts on the bottoms of his shoes. He commented that he felt like he was walking on stilts.
I had worn my Western-style boots, and even these were in danger of being lost in a trench through the sucking power of wet clay. It was treacherous enough finding firm footing in the holes that Richard had carved out between the rows. It was made much more interesting by not knowing whether my boot was going to stay in a hole when I attempted to step out.
Mountain Mama had already told me that she was concerned that the lack of rain may have adversely affected the quality we could expect from the corn at a critical stage in its growth, so I worried that Richard was breaking his back for nothing. After each row, I offered to just call it quits with growing the corn, reminding Richard that we had a second planting that still had potential. Even with his back aching, he insisted on continuing in our rescue efforts. What a sad stand of corn we left; the stalks that had been straight as tin soldiers was now bent-backed like old crones, but it was, at least, standing.
Mamie called to let us know that our beans had fallen in the storm, never once mentioning the state of our corn rows. She suggested that we come over and push the poles down deep into the dirt while it was still so slick from our recent rains. We knew right along that our poles were destined to collapse since the clay had been so hard every time we attempted planting them that they simply stood on top of the soil. It didn’t help that the corn had fallen onto the beans, but Mamie clearly didn’t notice the corn rows were amiss. She also suggested that we join her in eating a watermelon that had been given to her.
Over slices of cold watermelon, we discussed the corn. I suggested that next time we’d plant the seeds deeper; Mamie assured us that the seeds had been properly planted and the rows well-maintained. She agreed with Richard’s theory that the lack of rain had simply kept the roots too shallow. It was almost soothing to know that the weather was our weakness.