By Richard E. Peck

Richard E. Peck

Richard E. Peck

I grew up on a farm, where the facts of life are obvious. I helped load our prize boar into the back of the pickup for a visit to the latest bride in his growing harem — an arranged romance, his bride-a-week program. Our prize bull had a better life. No travel involved. Heifers were brought to him for “service.” That was the day’s euphemism. I observed the servicing.

So when Dad made me sit at the kitchen table with him for The Talk, I didn’t even recognize it as The Talk.

“Your mother saw you rip the silk off the new ears of corn in the field.”

“I never!” I swore.

“The wind blows pollen off one ear to the silk on the next plant,” Dad said. “If you tear the silk off, the ears of corn don’t develop. It’s nature’s way of makong each new generation of corn, like breeding baby plants.”

“Maybe it was Bob,” I said. “I bet Bob did it!” If I could shift suspicion to my brother…

“Just don’t do it again.”

Dad’s accusation was a mystery, until years later. One day out of nowhere, inspiration hit me. That lecture about corn pollen drifting on the wind had been The Talk! My sex education!

But I already knew about boars and bulls. The rest didn’t matter, the people part, until the day when I’d have to give The Talk to my son.

A trip the two of us shared solved the problem for me, I hoped. Chicago to Phoenix, overnight by train. Seats folded away at dusk, and bunk beds were swung down from the walls Six of us shared a sleeping car rattling through Mid-America. Two were sixtyish Red Hat ladies on the top two bunks. My son and I had the lower and middle bunks on one side. Across from us was a backpacking couple in their teens. “She” took the lower. “He” crawled into the middle bunk.

(You see where this is going?)

About 3:00 a.m., “he” crept out of his bunk and slipped in with “her.” Then the couple coupled. Vigorously. For half an hour. Discussing with each other their … progress.

Carpenters make less racket!

I rolled over to face the wall. The two ladies above the action were oblivious, or blasé. Or deaf.

Morning found “him” back in his own bunk, “her” asleep. Over his cereal in the Club Car my son said, “Did you hear that man get in the lady’s bed last night?”

“Eat your orange,” I said, nervous. My hands were sweating. But this might work out! If my son had understood last night’s boisterous demonstration, I might not have to deliver The Talk at all.

“The man beat her up! Did you hear them fighting? He punched her and beat her up for a long time.”

The demonstration had failed. Less graphic than boars and bulls, I guess. It was now up to me. The time had come for a father’s toughest task. I told my son, “Listen to me. It’s time you learned this.”

My son tensed for my lecture.

I took a deep breath and told him everything I knew about corn silk and wind-blown pollen.

He said “Okay,” and asked for another orange.

I thought it went well.

That was years ago. My son now has young children of his own, and one day soon he’ll have to give them The Talk. But they live in the city, with no cornfields nearby. How will he handle it?

Ah well, it’s not my problem.

  • Richard E. Peck is a part-time Kaua‘i resident and a retired president of three universities. He has written numerous books, plays, columns and TV shows, and his work can be seen at

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