The Popcorn Popper

When I was a kid in the late 70’s we had a cutting-edge popcorn popper. Put a bit of oil in the bottom with a bunch of unpopped kernels, then a pat of butter on the top of the golden-colored dome enclosure. Plug the thing in, and one by one the kernels ricochet off the dome and blossom into fully grown pieces of popcorn.

It was a sunny summer day in Deerfield, Illinois, when my mom decided that my younger brother and I should enjoy a snack. Out came the popcorn popper. Maybe I was feeling creative- or maybe just plain contrarian, but I asked my mother what would happen if we popped the popcorn without the plastic lid on top.

popcorn popperI think at this point, many moms would have shut down the whole operation with thoughts of spattering oil, and a hell of a mess to clean up. But that’s not what happened. My mom said “Let’s see!”. The three of us went out onto the concrete of our back porch and put the popper down with oil and kernels in the pan. We then laid down a makeshift carpet of paper towels all around the popper. My mom plugged the popcorn popper into the socket in the brick wall, and kept us back a safe distance. From there, we watched as kernels flew like fireworks all over the paper towel covered porch. When the show was over, my mom unplugged the machine and we gathered up the treats off the paper towels and popped them in our mouths.

This is my favorite story involving my mom. I must have been about 6 years old, but the fact that I remember it so vividly leads me to believe that this was a formative experience. Again, many mothers would have simply said “You can’t do that. That’s not allowed. That’s too dangerous,” etc. I think I inherited a little bit of my adventurousness that day. There may be rules but they’re not as hard and fast as they appear. What might happen? Let’s investigate!

[This story was written as an exercise for “Pixar in a box: The Art of Storytelling”, a free course available on Khan Academy.]