Judgment In A Cornfield
By Ernest Shubird
I had lost all sense of time that hot July morning as I leaned on my hoe handle and let my imagination indulge me in projects more exciting than hoeing corn. Then suddenly I saw Grandpa-until that moment my role model of kindness and compassion-coming through the field, walking rapidly between the rows and swinging a long, keen maple switch.
Now I've done it, I thought as I realized I had crossed the limits of his forbearance. I began to hoe the young corn as fast as my 11-year-old arms would move, not daring to look up as I heard his footsteps on the plowed ground and the corn brushing against his legs. Stunned by the reality of what was about to happen, I remembered the time he told me, "Jesus cried sometimes, but He could be tough when He needed to be." Grandpa was going to be tough with me-for the first time in my life.
That summer I was 11, and the Great Depression's hard times still lingered in Tennessee. Most mountain people depended mainly on the food and livestock they raised on their small farms.
On that morning, I was in the roastin' ears patch to hoe so that Grandpa could finish up his plowing. "Don't let him piddle along," Dad had told Grandpa. "Dust his britches if he needs that, but don't let him jest play along and lean on that hoe handle. He's had some lazy spells lately." Dad was afraid Grandpa would be too lenient with me, for I had heard him tell Ma, "Pa is jest too softhearted for his own good sometimes."
One of the great moments of my young life was that day the past summer when I overheard Grandpa tell a visiting preacher that I might turn out to be his best grandchild because I "hankered after things of the mind." But "things of the mind" had possessed me that morning. As I leaned on my hoe handle, slapping now and then at the sweat bees and corn beetles, my thoughts were at the creek where I had been planning to build a dam across the narrow crossing. I would dam up the creek with mud, leaves, and rocks, and then make boats from bucket lids and old cigar boxes and have a navy on the high seas. Absorbed in my engineering project, I did not even notice that Grandpa was no longer calling out "Gee" and "Haw" to the mule in the nearby field.
Then I saw him coming toward me, walking swiftly between two rows of corn with that maple switch in his hand, and I began to hoe.
"Wait a minute, son," he said softly. "Somethin' I need to take care of.
How's yer hoe doin' this morning'?"
"It's doin' fine, sir."
"I don't think it is, son. Let me have a look at it."
I handed him the short-handled hoe he had fixed especially for me, and he began to talk to it, holding it at arm's length.
"Hoe, I sent you here this mornin' with my grandson to hoe this corn. You know this corn needs to be hoed. You know we'll need roastin' ears this fall-he'll need some to take to school fer his lunch. But you wouldn't hoe. Now, I'm going to have to tune you up a bit so you'll help my grandson."
Then he whipped the hoe handle until the maple switch was broken and limp. As he tossed away the remnant of the switch, he handed the hoe back to me. "I believe it'll do a better job this time, son."
"It'll do much better, sir," I assured him as I began to chop at the weeds with energy I had never realized. "I think it'll do fine."
Grandpa turned and walked away. After a few yards he stopped and turned, tears in his big blue-green eyes. "Told yer ma you'd eat with us today, so don't be late. Yer grandma's cookin' us a big peach cobbler, and she'll be aggravated if we ain't at that table on time."