The Deadliest Kernel by Deb Kristy

When I was a child, my brother and I spent our summers in Tennessee, splitting our time between our mother’s mother and her husband, and our father’s parents. They were vastly different families, in food, dress, religion, expectations of behavior, punishment, and entertainment. (Contrast those summers with our usual life of freedom in Florida the rest of the year and it’s no wonder I developed a fertile imagination; hell, I’m lucky I didn’t develop multiple personalities! [Perhaps I did…])

Anyway, we went to the movies a lot during those summers, likely dropped there with a huge sigh of relief from our exhausted grandparents. But even at the movies there were differences. For instance, with our mother’s mother we were allowed popcorn, with our father’s mother, no way. We constantly challenged the No Popcorn rule, and, persistent child that I was, I pressed for details. But WHY? Why couldn’t we have popcorn? We’d had popcorn just the week before. We had popcorn at home, in Florida. We were popcorn experts. Seriously, WHY?

The answer never varied. It was because “you’ll choke on popcorn and die.” I was already a weary veteran of the “if you do/don’t do fill-in-the-blank you’ll die” threat, the most famous in our family coming from my mother’s father’s wife (getting the hang of this family yet? I have a flow chart I reference occasionally) whenever I asked why I had to wash my hands every single time I used the bathroom, even in our own house and even if I didn’t…you know. Her sage reply was because if I didn’t, “you’ll get hepatitis and die.”

The thing with this sort of response is that it’s very difficult to argue with. And I did so like to formulate mature, well-reasoned arguments. I mean, hotly replying “I will not,” was simply not an option for this kid. I needed facts, figures, newspaper articles to wave about triumphantly. But there was very little literature on popcorn related fatalities. (Or hepatitis, but that’s another blog.)

And how do you argue with someone who is, after all, simply trying to save your life? Was it possible that our father’s parents actually loved us more? Perhaps our mother’s mother was ambivalent about our certain demise, our violent, hacking, purple-faced popcorn choking deaths? During those hungry movies I would glance around at our fellow movie-goers happily snacking on their little butter-covered puffed kernels of salty doom and wonder who would get it first. I studied the Heimlich maneuver so that I could leap the aisle and be the hero (surely my arms were too short to have done any good?), and I was amazed that nobody else seemed concerned.

The very next day I’d take money from my mother’s mother, buy my popcorn, and munch away, the worry sliding away as easily as the popcorn slid down my throat. I didn’t look at the other patrons or obsess about their safety, I just watched the movie, ate my popcorn, drank my sugar and caffeine-laden Coke, and kicked my brother’s leg. It was heaven.

But those popcorn-less hours meant something too. I never did find out what the real reason was for our popcorn deprivation (it probably cost a pretty penny for one thing, or maybe they were concerned about nutrition, though the frequent donuts and Count Chocula would seem to belie that, or maybe they really thought we’d choke. Maybe someone they knew actually died.). But those hours in the dark, with nothing to be mindless about, made me more mindful. I noticed things. I sat in the midst of strangers and watched them in some of their most mindless moments, wide-eyed, slack-jawed except when shoveling in their deadly popcorn, enraptured, removed from their daily lives by…what?

A story.

A fiction.

A break from their daily lives, when they got to stop worrying about everything else, even choking to death on popcorn.

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6 thoughts on “The Deadliest Kernel by Deb Kristy

  1. The female protag in my new book is just like that. Won’t let her kids do anything because they might die. But her reasoning is likely very different from your, umm, father’s mother (did I get that right?). Great post, darling! I’d love to know more about Tennessee, like were you surrounded by horses?

  2. Wow! I was guilted into cleaning my plate by being told about the starving children all over the world, but none of the adults in my life, dysfunctional as they all were, ever told me any behavior would lead to certain death.

    And one of my favorite things to do at the movies is to take mini-breaks to look around at the faces of my fellow theater goers. Part of the magic of the whole going to movies experience (aside from the popcorn and chocolate thing) is having such a private experience in such a public place.

  3. Pardon this weird thought (maybe it’s a year’s end reflection), but I honestly wonder how many people have choked and died on popcorn while sitting in a dark movie theater?

    On a much brighter note, 2007 is your year. May all your debuts be successful and glorious!

  4. My vote is that your grandmother thought it was highway robbery to pay for popcorn at a theatre when you could make perfectly good popcorn at home. Lucky for you she didn’t shove brown paper bags of the homemade stuff and tell you to sneak it in. I don’t know what’s worse – not having popcorn, or taking the cheapskate route (my husband still suffers from the after-effects – even though we can afford the occasional $5 for a “small” popcorn, it’s been so ingrained in him *not* to spend money on it that he forgoes the popcorn altoghether and makes us buy our chocolate from the Kmart next door, too!).

    Of course, I could be just projecting here … 😉

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