A Memory by Mildred Filbrun Heck  

Ohio farmers in the 1920s still cut their fields of corn by hand.  They tied the stalks of corn into bundles with strong binder twine.  Then the bottom of each bundle was fanned out so it would stand up firmly on the ground.  About 14 to 20 bundles were stacked upright and closely together to make a circular corn shock.  In the early winter months farmers would go into their fields and hand-husk – or shuck - the ears of corn from each stalk and toss the ears into a wagon.   

The 80-year old corn-husking peg (shown above)  I've kept since I was eight years old.  Click here to read a brief story about Corn-Husking.

The setting for this particular Halloween trick was just such a field of newly-shocked corn belonging to Jessie Booher, a neighbor who owned a farm on the lonely old Wildcat Road in Wayne Township (now Huber Heights) in Montgomery County, Ohio.

It was the custom at Halloween time in the 1920s for the teenage farm boys (and a few girls) to roam their rural neighborhood at night and play tricks.  They might remove a farm gate from its post, tip over an outhouse or pull a farm wagon by hand to the next farmer’s yard.  It was quite a feather in the caps of the boys who accomplished the most unusual and difficult trick without being caught.  It was all tricks then at Halloween  – treats were considered tame ‘fun’.

 My brother, Bob, was two years older than I was so he was allowed to go on such outings.  I was only 11 on this particular Halloween, but I begged to go along.  Bob said I was too young, but then I overheard him and some other boys planning a new trick of pulling a spring wagon onto a low-roofed barn at the Booher farm.  I told Bob I would tell what they were up to if he didn’t let me come.  He had no choice but to let me tag along.

On Halloween night, we took off in two Model T Fords packed full of boys and two older girls – and me.  The cars were parked as quietly as a bunch of teenagers could manage on the narrow gravel road beside Jessie Booher’s big field of shocked corn.  Bob got even with me then for spying on the boys’ planning meeting by telling me I was too little to go to the barn with them.  I was to stay by the cars and be their lookout.

I was really angry about missing all the fun of putting a new trick over on Mr. Booher.  So I decided to play my own Halloween prank.  I ran from corn shock to corn shock, pulling each one apart and throwing the bundles on the frost-covered ground.  The boys were gone a long while giving me plenty of time to pull apart all of the shocks near the road.  When the boys returned, they were in such a hurry and so elated about pulling the wagon to the peak of the barn roof that they never noticed what fun I had been having.

The next morning the school bus driven by our father took its usual route down Wildcat Road and past the Booher farm.  The older boys were happily pointing to the wagon perched on the very ridge of the Booher’s distant barn roof.  They were feeling pretty smug about the success of their newest trick.

My father brought the bus to a sudden stop, not because of the wagon on the barn but because he had seen all those corn shocks scattered about.  He asked the older boys if they had torn them apart or knew who had done it.  No one knew.  That night at supper Dad asked Bob again if he had any part in that mess in Booher’s corn field.  What a hardship repairing the damage would be for Mr. Booher who was handicapped with rheumatism, our father said.

Bob finally told our folks that he had helped pull the wagon onto the Booher barn roof and that I should know who did the damage in the corn field for he had made me stay by the road with the cars.  

He added sheepishly that he and the other boys planned to get the wagon down after school the next day.  Meanwhile, I sat silently and dumb.  Dad looked sharply at me and asked, “Surely, surely, you didn’t scatter all those shocks by yourself?” 

I finally admitted that I was so angry at being left out of the Halloween fun that I got busy and made my own fun.  Dad said, “Fun?  Fun?  You think that was FUN?  We’ll see about that!”   Nothing more was said that night.

The next morning well before school, Dad handed me a sandwich in a paper bag and told me to get into my oldest coat and my galoshes, to put a warm pull cap on my head and hunt up a pair of heavy canvas gloves.  Dad drove me to the Booher farm; back a long, long lane.  

He told Mr. Booher, “This is the my daughter and she is going to reshock all the corn bundles that she tore down – and with no help from anyone.”

Then he dropped me off at the field beside the road, saying, “Get to work and have some more ‘fun’.”

I looked at the awful mess I had made and wondered how on earth I could ever have thought I was having fun that Halloween night.  Since I had helped to shock corn many times at home I knew what to do.  I had just gotten a good start when the school bus came down the road.  Bob had already told everyone to watch for me working in the cornfield so the kids were yelling and shouting derisively as soon as the field was in sight.  That made my embarrassment and humiliation complete.

I learned quickly that it was going to be much harder work and take much longer to set up those damn shocks of corn that it had been to tear them down.  The cold night frost had made the bundles heavy and stiff.  The day was cold and dark.  I had never done so much work completely alone before.  I kept thinking that surely Dad would come to help me for he must know that by afternoon I was aching something awful.  When I saw Mr. Booher walking towards me, I was afraid he was coming to inspect my work.  But he brought me a fruit jar of hot, sweet tea and some oatmeal cookies.  As good as they tasted, his kindness somehow only added to my humiliation.

As the afternoon wore on I sensed when it was time for the school bus to bring the kids home.  As soon as I saw the bus coming, I hid behind one of my corn shocks.  The kids in the bus yelled and laughed anyway since they saw bundles still on the ground.  They knew I must be in hiding somewhere nearby.

The next day was Saturday.  My muscles were sore, my hands were full of blisters and my pride was wounded.  But I was hauled right back to that field to finish the job.  Now, let me tell you, from that time on I have had the greatest respect for the hard work that farmers put into every field of corn – from plowing, planting and harvesting and, especially, shocking the corn.

Do I need to say that I never went on another Halloween tricking spree?  I can well remember the lesson my father taught me about humility and about destroying other peoples’ property.  And I can still remember the blisters and sore muscles that taught me such a painful lesson one Halloween long ago.


- This story has been edited by Mrs. Heck’s brother, William S. Filbrun -

"A Halloween trick - and a painful lesson learned" - Mildred Filbrun Heck - all rights reserved.  Permission to reproduce it or any part thereof must be obtained from the filbrun.com webmaster.

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