The Essence of Popcorn

By Dee Orr

Nowhere in all my years of wandering through museums, antique shops, or private and historic homes have I ever come across a hand-stitched sampler that read “Home Popcorn Home.” It’s a shame because popcorn is a natural host to special times with family and friends. I have never seen a buttery bowl of popcorn that didn’t draw people to its rim.

One of my earliest memories is of my mother standing over the stove shaking a black iron skillet over an open flame. There was something magical about the sound of corn kernels dancing in hot oil and that woof of total surrender as hot butter was drizzled over the white puffy pillows. When the salt was shaken, I knew it was ready.

Most often, a batch of popcorn returns me to the living room of my childhood home and a Saturday night episode of Gun Smoke. As if I were there, I see my dad enjoying the big shoot-out in front of the Long Branch Saloon, my mother laughing at some ridiculous argument between Doc and Festus, while I long for Marshall Dillon to kiss Miss Kitty. Yep, armed with a bowl of popcorn, my family helped tame the Wild West. How I treasure those evenings with my parents. They were well and happy with so many wonderful times still ahead of them.

As I readied my belongings for dorm life, my parents gave me an electric popcorn popper. They knew their child would have little time for television in the freshman year, but they hoped there would always be time for memories of Saturday evenings with Mom and Dad, and there was. That little electric popper went a long way towards making a dorm room home, and roommates and suitemates family. It made its way into the hearts of many a friend. I can never pass a movie theater without that smell of popcorn bringing back memories of dorm life. And what wonderful memories they are – we girls haven’t aged at all.

Two years after college, I went to live in Salzburg, Austria. I left these shores prepared to live two years without waxed-paper, Saran Wrap, Jell-O, marshmallows, chocolate chips or refrigeration, but no one prepared me for the scarcity of popcorn. No popcorn. The thought was mind-numbing for all the American students. Thankfully parents felt our pain, and sent care packages. With wattage differences skillets returned to the stoves and more than once we sent un-popped kernels back into the hot oil in hopes of savoring a few more bites. Maybe for the first time in our lives we understood the meaning of waste not, want not.

Our Austrian friends were awed that we were so wild about farm feed. Equally, we didn’t understand why they soaked their French fries in mayonnaise. Some cultural exchanges were not overly intellectual. Often I’ll hear a melody of Mozart’s and it sits me down in the living room of a four hundred year old building on the banks of the Salzach River; a place I called home and bouts of homesickness were eased with bowls of popcorn.

Well! As good as the old days were, I was recently yanked into the 21st century. My daughter was putting together a care package for a freshman headed for dorm life, and I suggested she include an electric popper and a nice supply of ingredients. She waited until she had my attention, then slowly spelled aloud, M-I-C-R-O-W-A-V-E. Clearly, I was out of touch with the modern day kernel.

I was saddened to find the skillet and electric popper obsolete to a whole new generation. As I sat wondering how the beep of a microwave and a scorched bag of artificially flavored popcorn could possibly transport anyone to home sweet home, the microwave roared into action, a paper bag puffed to life, and our grandson and his buddies re-lived their recent victory over a bag of nuked popcorn. So…maybe there’s hope for microwave popcorn. I paused to savor the moment, knowing from experience that my grandson can always return home to the treasured times he shared with family and friends thanks to the essence of popcorn.

About this writer

  • Dee Orr Dee Orr is a native Texan, born in Ft. Worth, and a graduate of Baylor University School of Music. Before retiring to the Myrtle Beach area in 1993, she taught middle school music in upstate New York.

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