I can’t say I was disappointed when my good friend called and invited me to lunch. It was one of the slowest days I’d experienced up to that point, and the heat was stifling. He inquired as to my availability for an afternoon endeavor with him and his fiancee at the Park Tavern, and I told him I was going to give it one more hour with hopes that my fortunes would suddenly take a turn for the better. They didn’t.
I lived with my parents for a month after moving back to Bureau County in August, as the room at my highly-anticipated new residence needed the touch of a paint brush and a nail gun before it was suitable for habitation. After stressing for a few weeks that I was not bringing home any bacon, it dawned on me one day that a gold mine was sitting right there in the back yard at my parent’s house. Well, a gold kernel mine would be a more appropriate definition.
My father has grown sweet corn in the field between their house and the country road they have lived on for years now, and he has always generously invited those near and dear to the family to come fill their arms — those succulent cobs which the summer warmth summons the ears from the stalk like butterflies from their cocoons. I asked him if I could roll up my sleeves and venture into the rows, and after being granted permission, an income that literally sprouted from the ground itself became my temporary means of occupation.
My dad scouted out some prime time real estate on Main Street in Princeton to accommodate my newest business venture, and so there I was on that sticky afternoon, beads of sweat rolling down my forehead as I sat next to a vehicle full of seemingly undesirable product. That’s the funny thing about sales. Sometimes you don’t see the biggest fish in the lake until it slaps you in the face on its jump into the boat.
The cuisine and camaraderie at the Park Tavern were both entirely enjoyable, but my eyes kept glancing over to a handful of gals who were playing cards at the tables beside us. They were not spring chickens any longer, but the youthfulness in their perspectives was as rich as the queen of hearts that took home the winnings of every hand she landed in. I politely introduced myself and asked if any of them needed any assistance with dinner preparations for that evening.
For five minutes, and five minutes only, it was a fire sale. I jumped from one card player to the next, reiterating each request as they came my way and reassuring the quality of my product to each poker face amidst. I grabbed a few extra hands from my friend, and we carried in more than a dozen bags of corn to that back room of the restaurant. I couldn’t help but offer a complimentary grin with each bag I handed off, while graciously and sincerely thanking each lady for her business. I even gave a few bags free of charge to the owners of the establishment for their troubles. That afternoon was an offering I had not anticipated, and I’ve never seen the mouth of a gift horse yet.
I’ve talked up the flavors of food and drink to many connoisseurs at the restaurants I’ve worked at, and I even tried slinging a few kitchen tables at a furniture store my first few months in Madison last year. But selling corn this summer taught me much that I had never known on a professional level before. I had to be patient, as there were stretches during my month of sales where I sat on a sidewalk for close to three hours without a single customer. I showcased pride in my product without falsifying the value of it because I realized that as the lone businessman in this venture, complaining fingers could point in the direction of only one person.
I also gained an appreciation for each customer who came my way. It wasn’t just the fact they were supplying my income, but that they were attentive to my efforts, as many strangers joined me in the heat, standing and chatting the weather and the work for minutes at a time before diving back into their air conditioned vehicles with a shout of good luck in my direction. The blessing was not in the sale so much as the satisfaction of their company.
I’ve always enjoyed new experiences, as we all have different walks of life. Any opportunity I get to learn a new craft or to be amplified through the existence of others leaves me peaceful, expanded to those moods that know most willingly how to embrace what’s been given, and generously hand it out thereafter.
Hey Dad, thank you for the corn. Hey stranger, thank you for the conversation. Hey ladies, thank you for the surprise party as I walked through the door. Hey life, thank you for growing your instructions from the ground up with such flavor that it can almost be heard by anyone listening.
I’m all ears.
Eric Engel, formerly of Tiskilwa but now of Peoria, can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.