Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 23, 2013

Rob Ford: Origins of popcorn unclear, but give thanks for it

Local columnist

---- — This is a Thanksgiving story that I never get tired of telling.

I was once equally certain that my father was the creator of popcorn as people were 500 years ago that the world was flat.

Follow me.

My Dad was employed by the United States Air Force in the 1960’s as a radar technician. In that capacity, he was one of thousands of young GIs who were watching radar scopes for inbound aerial attacks all across North America.

One of his many stops was at the small radar site in Empire, which is where I was born in the fall of 1958.

Sometime in 1962, he was sent to watch a scope in an even less populated location than Empire. It was located high atop a mountain two hours, by airplane, north of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

If your memories as a 3-year-old mirror mine, then this explains why I didn’t really “meet” my dad until he came back home a year later.

By the time he returned to Empire, I was a nearly 5-year-old kid ready to impress a kindergarten teacher with my knowledge of all things, including where popcorn comes from.

The fact of the matter as I knew it, was that popcorn, the perfect food, was invented in 1963 by Air Force Sgt. Oscar Ford, Jr.

Prior to that year, I had never enjoyed the glorious culinary symphony of grease and grain.

I had never seen it, smelled it or tasted it. I had never experienced the wonder of melting a lump of Crisco in a sauce pan, pouring in a half cup of seeds and shaking the pan across a glowing stove top until the lid blew off.

From that moment forward, hardly an evening passed without a bowl or two of popcorn being shared by the Ford family.

In November of that same year, the President of the United States was assassinated. It was a big deal. But in my eyes, the “defining moment” of 1963 was still all about nothing more than the invention of popcorn.

About the same time that the rest of the world was coming to grips with the death of John F. Kennedy, a small group of kindergartners were gathered around a miniature table in their equally miniature chairs. Their round table discussion centered around the first Thanksgiving dinner.

The budding learners were asked to suggest what kinds of things were eaten at that meeting of Pilgrims and Native Americans.

Of course, turkey was there, as were mashed potatoes, squash and lots of other vegetables.

And then one brazen 5-year-old suggested that the Indians had introduced to the Pilgrims a food called “popcorn.”

When our teacher confirmed that popcorn quite possibly had been on the menu, my jaw dropped a little. I almost disputed the matter, but as other students nodded in agreement, I swallowed hard and kept my mouth shut.

It’s 50 years later and once again I’ve told my favorite Thanksgiving story.

I imagine that most of us can think of something that we may have erroneously given undue credit to once upon a time. For me, it was my father’s invention of popcorn.

As you gather around the table and enjoy the company of loved ones this year, give thanks for each of them. But, if somebody says something that doesn’t jive with the way you see the world, at least swallow before you open your own mouth.

Rob Ford was born and raised in northern Michigan. He lives in Elk Rapids where he owns and operates Riverside Title. He can be reached via email at