Boyhood memories haunt harvest fields

Posted Sept. 26, 2008, at 7:20 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:01 a.m.

As a boy growing up in rural Alabama, just across the Chattahoochee River from Columbus, Ga., I often spent my late summer afternoons following an English setter through a cornfield. We would go into the corn, Prissy and I, at the edge of the pasture that came with the house my parents rented, and stay in the corn for hours, walking the furrows between rows. A few feet in and the corn closed around us, endless walls of long green leaves that towered over my head.

It was a large cornfield that went on forever in all directions, or so it felt to a boy of 12. I never felt lost, but there were times when I had no idea where I was, and didn’t care. Following Prissy would eventually get me back home.

There was comfort in following the dog. My father would not let me go into the corn without her, explaining that she would smell a rattlesnake long before I would see or hear it. He taught me the difference between her behavior trailing birds and when she smelled a rattler coiled among the stalks, and she kept me safe. I never had to use the snakebite kit that I carried in my pocket.

I remember sitting in the dusty red soil surrounded by corn and smelling rain, then hearing drops spattering the leaves at the edge of the field, then finally seeing the dust rise as raindrops hit the ground. Prissy would find me, lie down next to me, and we would wait out the storm.

These are memories of half a century ago, of a different time and place, both gone. But I have kept a fondness for cornfields and cannot ride past one without slowing down and remembering what it was like to be deep inside. And every autumn, Marjorie, Lynne, and I drive to Levant, to Treworgy Farm, and get lost in the corn maze.

Different times indeed — now I pay to get lost in a cornfield! But I do so with a smile, for it brings back those distant memories. As I watch Lynne, now 12, running through the corn, I realize that this may be the closest she will come — can come — to the experience I had at her age.

We exited the maze into a field of pumpkins, some round and orange, others flat and red, pumpkins clinging to their leafless vines. We began our private searches for the pumpkin each would carve, jack-o’-lanterns to sit on the porch railing until hard freezes turned them to mush. I found mine, the perfect pepo, and then discovered a field mouse had found it first, opening a door to the inside at ground level.

We filled a wagon with future jack-o’-lanterns, maybe a pie or two. Back at the barn, I paid the farmer for letting me harvest his pumpkins, then got in line for free ice cream. Lynne joined a host of other children feeding grain to goats that scampered inside a fence from one small outstretched hand to another; some goats ate the grain, others nibbled on ice cream and shirt sleeves. I sat with Marjorie in the sun, content to watch the host of people, old and young, interacting with the farm and the season’s harvest.

This year the corn maze is in the shape of a giant tractor. We were given maps with our tickets, but I stuffed mine in my back pocket and followed Marjorie through the maze, preferring to feel lost in the corn, if only for a moment. For one brief moment, as we turned a corner along the path, I saw Prissy running ahead, in and out of the stalks, her nose to the ground.

Send queries to Gardening Questions, P.O. Box 418, Ellsworth 04605, or to rmanley@shead.org. Include name, address and telephone number.

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