It’s always held on a Tuesday, once or sometimes twice a year as autumn draws near. The men stroll in; groups of two or three or the occasional half dozen clumped together. They are clad in dusty jeans, T-shirts and work boots, the kind that aren’t meant just for show. A few wear button down oxfords that look stiff and scratchy. It ends up being about forty men altogether and they exhibit an easy companionship rarely seen in such a setting.
On this night, the dining room of the restaurant is theirs alone. They sit at long tables that have been pushed together and drink pitchers of beer out of ice-dripping mugs while the local corn boils in pots on the big stove in the back. There’s not a female in sight, except for me and a stray waitress or two. The group’s woman-folk have already done their job: the behind-the-scenes ritual of hand-chafing shucking and cleaning, a chore that inevitably leaves everyone covered in tangled lengths of sticky vegetative finery. Days later they are still pulling the golden strands out of their hair and clothing.
The waitresses are cheerful. It’s long past the dinner hour and their work is done for the most part. They know that all they have to do now is hand out the paper plates and butter. The collected farmers tuck in to their bounty, sharing with anyone who happens to be around this evening and with the staff, of course. The corn is sweet and tender, the best yet this season. The youngest of the group sets the record for the night: ten cobs down in easy succession, it is that good.
As the waitresses clear away the plates, the men begin to sing. A quartet starts off with a big band tune; more join in as they get going on the classics. They know their stuff, these men do; the transitions are smooth, the dynamics effortless and effective. Soon the whole group is singing, obscure songs with intricate primal harmonies that raise the hair on my arms, even though I’ve witnessed this gathering last year and the year before.
I watch the smattering of patrons at the bar who have stopped by for a brew or a quick, late night snack. Surely the last thing they expected when they came in was to be seduced by song, engulfed in a shimmering haze of vocal virtuosity. Their food and drink are quickly forgotten and they smile, incredulous, charmed, utterly enthralled.
The enchantment continues as the singers edge their way towards midnight. No one has moved, tomorrow morning will come quicker than usual for those unpracticed in nocturnal wanderings. There will be no regrets though; this music will shape their dreams for days to come. As the last note drifts down into a thick silence, I finally remember to breathe.
And I imagine that somewhere there is a harvest god who is very, very pleased.