The Corn Maze
A Story by Lea Sheryn
Crows cause havoc in a corn maze
Late yesterday afternoon, my path took me past the old homestead. To be truthful, it gave my heart a great deal of pain to see it as it is. Paint flaked down to bare boards and its shutters hanging haphazardly from broken windows, the place had the look of sadness about it. Parking the old Ford in the dooryard, I couldn’t resist the urge to take a final survey of what was left of the happy existence of my long-forgotten youth.
Yes, the rickety porch step still creaked in the same place when I put my foot to it. That one small sound in the night let momma know we had come home safely from carousing with the fellows down at the Dew Drop Inn. The swing we sat on with our girlfriends was a derelict pile of rotten boards in a heap in the corner. Held on by only one rusty hinge, the screen door hung at a slant; behind it the storm door was gone. I walked straight in to behold a horror of pealing wallpaper, threadbare carpets but no furnishings. All the old memories had been stripped away by vandals who chanced the evil reputation given to my old home by the events that forced us to move away.
The Amberley’s had once made a name for themselves in the small farming community outside Bentley, Kansas. Corn, acre upon acre of corn grew on our land. Grandpa worked the fields until he could work them no more. Daddy took over when the old man took to his rocking chair in the nook by the fireplace to tell stories of olden days to us young folk. How we hung on his knee as he told of the doings in his time. From toddler years until we were about six years of age, we were Grandpa’s constant companion. At the ripe old age of six, we were put into the fields to work. Other than the old man, not a single hand was idle in our household.
From sunrise to set of sun, we worked those fields of corn. Andy, the eldest, drove the plow to turn up the land while the rest of us, May Belle, Janie, Tommy, Al and I walked behind dropping three kernels to each mound. Following behind the older Amberley offspring, Sally and Harold covered the kernels by pushing dirt over them with their feet and tramping it down. In the afternoons, momma would spread out a blanket in the green grass alongside the field and sit, while the baby, Maisie, played happily in the sunshine. There was always a good jug of ginger water waiting for us if we should become overcome by thirst during our long days in the field.
Along summertime, the cornstalks stood high as they reached up toward the sun. The tiny ears that peeked out of each stalk grew plumper as the days strove toward the solstice. Daddy proclaimed there would be a bumper crop and, if we did as well as he expected, he would give us a celebration we would long remember. I suppose the thought of that upcoming surprise made us proud of our work in the fields. We all strove to do better in expectation of things to come.
As anyone who knows anything about farming corn, where there are big plump kernels growing on tall green stalks, there are crows. Not only did we have a bumper crop of corn but, sad to say, a full murder of crows took up home within that marvelous crop. It was Al who noticed them first. Full of vim and vinegar, the eleven-year-old boy rushed into the kitchen just before lunchtime of a July day shouting with his full voice. “CROWS!” was all he had to say to make momma turn pale as a ghost. Without much ado, she yelled out the backdoor toward the barn where daddy was working and, grabbing the shotgun from above the door, strode out to the field and began shooting. Father and Andy rushed after her with their own guns. All day long all we could hear was the firing of gunshot and the cawing of the greedy black birds that had taken up residence amongst our crop.
Those of us who were old enough to handle the shotguns took turns patrolling the fields from dawn to dusk. Boys and girls alike, we didn’t stop walking up and down the rows of corn, shooting at the crows until the entire murder had been eradicated. Janie, who wasn’t at all like the rest of us, took to lecturing the ungainly straw-stuffed scarecrows for not doing their job. Snatching the worn hats from their heads, she commenced to beating them silly, thinking they would straighten out and start scaring the crows away. Silly child…she couldn’t help it. Never would we think to laugh at our sixteen-year-old sister who acted more like she was four. Nor did we attempt to make her see the senselessness of her actions because, of course, we loved her all the same.
It was a hardworking summer. Six days a week we worked the fields and kept an eye out to make sure those darned crows didn’t take up residence again. Saturday night, Andy, May Belle, Tommy and I piled into the old blue Ford truck and rattled off to the Dew Drop Inn for a rowdy night amongst our friends and acquaintances. It was said the Amberley’s were the life of the party. We could shake the house down drinking and dancing and just causing a general uproar. How flirtatious blonde little May Belle loved being the center of attention. Surrounded by beaux from all across the country, she made them promises she knew she could never keep while us boys made sure things didn’t get too out of control.
“Jimmy Bob, go away,” she would exclaim if I lingered too closely to the royal court she held around the bar. “You’re stifling my ambitions.” I would slink away to rejoin my old school friends, but she was always in the corner of my eye.
Regardless of our good time Saturday nights, momma still expected us to be pert in church donning our Sunday best. Even Grandpa was properly bathed and dressed for those old-fashioned Sunday services. We had to show ourselves as respectable members of the community in those days and momma made sure we were.
Harvest time and the cool crisp mornings had us stamping around the fields trying to keep warm. The buyers from the city had been and sure enough there were high prices for corn that year. Daddy sold the entire crop and put the money in the Bentley bank for safekeeping. Once the good eating corn was harvested and on it’s way to be sold in the big cities, we were all called into the parlor to be told about the big surprise.
“We’re going to build a corn maze and invite all our friends and neighbors to celebrate our good fortune,” our father explained as he beamed at us in congratulations of all our hard work.
Boy howdy! The very next day we set about planning and making that big corn maze. Deciding the intricate patterns then tramping down the stalks to create the pathways was a difficult task but, with thoughts of the big celebration looming we did the work in no time. All through the days, we could be heard shouting to each other, telling jokes and singing songs as we put our all into making the best corn maze possible. It was certainly the best time of our young lives. It was a time we would talk about for years to come.
Finally, the last Saturday in October arrived. The maze was completed and waiting for the guests to arrive. A carnival feeling prevailed amongst us children as we rushed to stack up pumpkins for sale. The washtub was full to the brim with water and apples for bobbing and, much to May Belle’s delight, there was a kissing booth for her to entertain all her beaux at a nickel a smooch. The girls had fashioned corn dollies for sale for any little girl who might want one while granddad had whittled whistles to delight the young boys. All we had to do was wait for the people we invited to arrive.
Well, they came from all over, not only our small rural community but city slickers too. It seemed everyone wanted to see the Amberley’s corn maze. The crowds poured in and kept right on a-coming. Pretty soon, that maze was full to the brim. Laughter and shouting were heard from every corner of it as couples and families attempted to traverse the twists and turns of the maze until suddenly the fun-loving sounds turned to shrieks of horror.
“CROWS!” Al screamed as he ran hellbent for leather toward where momma and daddy were standing on the porch observing the fun. “CROWS!”
It couldn’t be! I thought as I raced toward the cornfield. We had all walked the maze that morning to be sure everything was as it should be. There hadn’t been a bird in sight.
The sky above that corn maze was black with angry cawing crows. The clamor of the people screaming in terror while birds swooped into the rows of stalks was a sound I would not long forget.
As I stand on the porch looking toward where that field had stood in the days of my youth, I could still hear it resounding in my ears to this day.
Those who were close to the entrance or exit were lucky. They were able to flee to safety unscathed. For the ones who were trapped in the inner portions of that maze, I dread to think of them. Those damn crows were relentless. Thirty people were caught inside, twenty-three never came out. Five were blinded for life while two were left with disfiguring facial injuries. May Belle was found in a dead-end wrapped in the arms of Stanley Morris, one of her favorite beaux. Why she was in a dead-end, we couldn’t figure. She knew that maze inside and out. Our dear sister was buried in a closed casket upon daddy’s request. Momma declared she wasn’t fit to be seen.
That was the end of the Amberley’s in Bentley, Kansas. After the fateful day of the corn maze, we were the scourge of our rural neighborhood and the bank took our earnings to pay the mortgage on the old farm. No one could forget; no one wanted us around.
Leaving everything behind, we became the Amberley’s of Topeka and that’s were we stayed. Daddy opened a small grocery store and we lived in cramped quarters above it. None of us had any desire to see the old place again. If I hadn’t been passing late this afternoon, I wouldn’t have bothered. Well, there was nothing to see, not really. Just a dilapidated old farmhouse. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be there much longer. The town of Bentley is growing by leaps and bounds. According to the sign at the head of the road leading out here, a big housing development is going up with a community center and a strip mall with one of those huge supermarkets where you can buy anything your heart desires. As in all things, the old must make way for the new.
I’ve left that old Ford idling for too long as it is. If I leave it much longer, it will die, and I’ll have little hope of reviving it. I’ve insurance to sell on down the road a piece. And the wife has promised a roast chicken dinner with her blue-ribbon winning apple pie for dessert. Maybe she’ll have a bit of vanilla ice cream to go on top. So, you see I must be moseying on. It’s already getting late.