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Collaborating with Smith & Truslow spice maven Jean Gleason on this blog transports me back to a late night in our college dorm. We had a paper due the next day for our History of the American West (aka “Cowboys and Indians”) course and in typical fashion neither of us had started it. The assignment was to use a symbol as a metaphor for discussion of what we learned in the class. Visits to the local pizza joint and to the Ice Cream Machine had not resulted in inspiration. Jean decided to cook up a batch of popcorn to fuel the long night ahead.

As I watched the small golden kernels expand, it hit me. I started writing furiously, swept away by the idea of popcorn as a metaphor. The small yellow kernels turning to white symbolized the relentless domination of the white man over the indigenous peoples, the expansion of the kernel driven by heat mirrored the perceived right of manifest destiny driving the expansion of our nation. The golden kernels also stood for the gold nuggets luring prospectors westerly. “Kernel” Custer’s last pop at the Battle of Little Bighorn! The Indians and their maize! Lewis standing “ear to ear” with Clark . . .

As I recall, Jean did well with her trusty multi-pronged wagon wheel, rolling and rolling ever westward. Anchie Kuo’s use of the macho pistol symbol got him a B plus. Nancy Bick scored one of the rare As with her creative and masterly prose but hey, she’s from Montana. My popcorn paper was the only one with a bifurcated grade: one for substance (somewhat lacking) and one for “use of corny puns” (A plus!).

Many years later while back for a visit, I passed the history professor walking across the campus green. He looked up, glanced at my face, and exclaimed “Popcorn!”

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