Like finding a needle in a cornfield

In early June 2010, my husband and I were visiting Newtown in southeastern PA.  We needed to get some cash on that warm sunny Saturday morning. As we approached the local Acme, we were hailed by two Rotarians collecting donations for some good cause who greeted us warmly.  As Rotarians ourselves, we stopped to chat.  When asked why we were visiting the area, I explained that I was leading a Rodgers and Hammerstein sing-along.  One of the gentlemen, Glenn Burd, asked, “Have you heard the song that says ‘the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye’ “?  I nodded.  He said, “Well, my father planted that corn for Mr. Hammerstein.”

My dear husband had just asked why I had agreed to lead the gratis 30 minute sing-along seven hours from our home in western NY.  I had no reasonable explanation at that time. However, meeting Glenn reminded me of Oscar’s lyric from The King and I – “You fly down a street on the chance that you’ll meet and you meet – not really by chance.”  Meeting Glenn was the reason why we had come.  I just hadn’t known it until the magic word – Rodgers and Hammerstein –  had been spoken.  We have since become friends; he subscribes to this blog – I subscribe to his.

The following is Glenn’s blog account of “Mr. H.” and his attempt to play matchmaker.  He has permitted me to share it with you.

“The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye.”

Posted on June 25, 2010

There is something magical, ethereal and simple that opens the heart to the lyrics of Hammerstein. I have been drawn to these songs from an early age, listening to my mother hum the familiar notes as she baked bread. Naturally, the tunes found a welcome in my heart as well — I even volunteered to sing in my high school’s production of Oklahoma.

My mother left an old scrap book with me one summer to “look after”; she passed away the following summer after a mother’s day stop on her way to visit her birthplace in New England. I believe it was fitting that she returned to her hometown, the place she celebrated her honeymoon, one last time before passing from this life.

In the scrap book are pasted memories of my parent’s first dates and pictures of their honeymoon in Mattapoisett, MA. On the page marked “second date”, is a ticket stub in “Orchestra” seating (D 6 was her seat) and the two original programs for Oklahoma. The play was shown at the St. James Theatre, 138 West 48th Street (NYC) starting in March 1943; they attended on May 8, 1944. My mother had cut out a picture of Celeste Holm who played the “bloomer girl” and pasted it beside the ticket stub.

Some of the elements for Oklahoma actually came from traditions practiced in this part of Bucks County. My grandparents, Esther and Bill Burd, had an 85 acre dairy farm on the crest of the ridge in Carversville, near New Hope, PA. They acquired it in the Depression and produced tomatoes for Campbell’s soup, grains and hay for the milking cows, among other crops. They always hosted the local church’s annual summer picnic because they were always willing, it was a large farm with open lawns, and my grandmother was involved in everything at the Carversville Church. In early years, one of the activities was a basket auction, where single woman prepared a basket picnic of homemade goodies and the single men would bid on them. The highest bidder won the privilege of sharing lunch with the young, eligible lady. This custom seemed to come from the Pennsylvania German side of the family, but I’m not sure.

My mother told me that my father, David Burd, was a hired farmer for Oscar Hammerstein. When Mr. H asked, my father would plow the fields and plant corn “so that I can see it from my porch”. Mr. H claimed to be most creative when he sat on the porch of his home in Doylestown and wrote lyrics. Therefore, the corn my father planted was mentioned in “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning”. Mr. H gave 2 tickets for the show in NYC to my father with the intention that he should take his housekeeper  on a date. He took my mom, Jane Dexter, instead. They were married in January 1945.

Oscar Hammerstein and other creative spirits were drawn to Bucks County by the landscapes and natural views that they discovered. When driving alone through the rolling countryside, I find myself singing songs from South Pacific or Oklahoma. I hope that we can always preserve the farms and not take for granted the heritage that still grows in the natural landscape of Bucks County.

3 thoughts on “Like finding a needle in a cornfield

  1. Jessie,
    Glenn Burd shared such an inspiring story about my home town and the culture of writer’s I’ve come to love. I enjoyed the lyrics Oklahoma long before I knew they were inspired by the Pennsylvania corn fields North East of Philadelphia. I use to dream of far away places to place the setting of my stories and just like the great writers that have come before, i.e. Oscar I return to the romance of home and it’s majestic and beautiful farmland landscape.

    • Thank you Dick and Ruth for sharing your warm thoughts inspired by Glenn. He told me another story connected to the Von Trapp family which I’ll share shortly.
      Ruth Anne, you are such an important link in this whole Highland Farm story. Soon there will be a post about how you helped to bring it all about. And thanks for providing the link to our interview. Best wishes with your Scripting for Success. I know that you are helping many people to tell their stories and in so doing, enrich many lives. Wishing you continued success!

  2. A sentimental story of grace, gracefully told. Thank you to Jessie and Glenn for this glimpse from the days of our culture of character. So refreshing and hopeful!

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