Childhood Memories of Grandmother and Corn Dogs

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One of the almost romantically intimate experiences that I shared with my grandmother as a child was the ecstasy of eating corn dogs. And it was with surprising frequency, at least during summer months, that I joined in her unmitigated, uncomplicated zeal for her favorite food. Forget the old saw about permissive grandmothers filling their grandchildren with tasty fried treats. My grandmother wanted the corndogs for herself, and it was the privilege of her favor that I was allowed to go along with her down to the park on the Fourth of July or to one of the many bankrupted family farms where an auction had drawn a little crowd, and, always, Corn Dog Jerry and his makeshift plywood stand. I took my admittance into the order of corn dog eaters with as much seriousness as a boy of eight could muster. I knew the Pledge of Allegiance, the Boy Scout oath, the Apostle’s Creed, and certainly the Act of Contrition, though this one troubled me with its “just punishments” and “near occasions of sin.” I knew to take my hat off during the national anthem, to fold my palms into a steeple during prayer, to hold my hands up to take the flesh of the savior. Above all of these I knew the sacrament of receiving a corn dog on its little foil swaddle, knew to gaze reverently at this preternatural treasure while I waited for it to cool. My Catechism had prepared me well. The ironies of the imagery were not lost on this Catholic boy: the martyrdom of spike and cauldron, the sacrifice of ketchupy blood. To eat “out” was a rare privilege in our village on the wane. The last hotel had closed when the railroads stopped bringing guests, and hot food not prepared in someone’s home was a rarity reserved for community dinners or summer picnics. So we made due with the occasional public function where we could leave our sweaty kitchens for the cool leisure of dining outdoors. Add a lively crowd and a few rounds of Bingo, and you would forget you were bound by territory or time, returned to your nomadic roots of pillage and graze. Cotton candy, Cracker Jack, and above all, corn dogs seemed in such an atmosphere to have been conveyed to us by some benevolent deity, a manna that was not prepared but that merely appeared. Had Moses and his tribes been blessed so well?

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