Popcorn is a Sacred Food


A very long time ago, my brothers and I slept three beds across in the same room downstairs. Several times each week our father made popcorn, drank soda, and read his magazines in the kitchen at the top of the stairs.  It was a ritual of his, and my mother apparently gave him that space; he worked long days and Saturdays, too.

Some nights, after we were supposed to have been asleep, we heard the sound as he shook the iron skillet across the stovetop. This while the smell of fresh-popped corn wafted down.  Occasionally one of us would creep upstairs and ask for a bowl–but we would not be asking for a bowl of just any popcorn. The kernels came from the farmers in the county and the mixture of salt and real butter was more divined than measured.  My father, before he finished school at Notre Dame, had earned the nickname “Popcorn Bob.”  In that house and home, popcorn was a sacred food.

The tacit understanding was that you could have a small bowl if you didn’t ask too many questions. Then you had to get back to bed.

It’s the same house today, red bricks and all. For me, it’s still home.

The apple tree isn’t in the backyard anymore, but the trees along the street have grown so big they often meet above the road. Dad died at home just over two years ago. Mom is looking to move into something smaller.

Three years ago, I was home on a visit. Mom had gone to bed and I had watched TV with Dad until 1o pm. He was falling asleep, so I said, loudly, “Dad, it’s time for you to go to bed.”  He’s very agreeable. He got his walker and slowly headed for the bedroom.

I went into the kitchen and made a big bowl of popcorn. I used an air popper though, and instead of real butter, used something from a tub. I put a little sea salt on it.

As I mixed up the batch with a wooden spoon, the kitchen door opened. Dad peeked his head in. His eyes lit up at the sight of the large bowl brimming with popcorn.  “I thought you were going to bed?” I asked.

“I smelled trouble,” he answered playfully.

“Okay,” I said, getting an extra bowl from the cupboard, “you can have one bowl, but then you have to go to bed.”

Popcorn is more than a snack or something to eat at the movies. Where I come from, it’s a sacred food.



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