THere is about the first job that imprints itself on the memory. Some go the traditional route of babysitting or washing dishes at a local restaurant. But the Observer thinks back to brisk autumn nights in the corn maze of southwest Missouri.
The maze is in the middle of nowhere at the end of a two-lane road near the Missouri-Arkansas border. To get to the entrance, guests had to travel down a long, steep road that gave them a chance to survey all it had to offer – pumpkin patches teasing orange giants, chicken houses and barns full of attractions. Eventually it led to a parking field. Unbeknownst to many, the visitors passed the owners’ house, which was quaintly and modestly decorated for the season. Their business was literally in their backyard.
A perfectly photogable and family-friendly corn maze by day crawling with teenage employees in creepy costumes for a late-night scare fest.
The chainsaws were renewed overnight; In a “zombie paintball” ride, poor, unfortunate teenage boys get shot with paintballs and screams echo through an old barn filled with creepy ghouls and fog machines. Nervous kids on first dates paid their dues for a neon wristband that wooed their evening partner with an all-access pass to attractions, and motorcycle bikers with pink beards picked pumpkins and sat around campfires in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The Observer worked this job for two seasons and now, years later, this first job has proven to be the perfect spot for observation.
In a 1998 black Pontiac Firebird with pop-up headlights, The Observer drove through winding Missouri backroads to work sometimes 12-hour days every weekend. (What a way to spend the last years of high school during football season!) The paycheck came at the end of every Sunday, and it certainly wasn’t worth the hours put in. But the pay for the Observer didn’t matter much the time, and having a fun first job taught us a great work ethic.
Almost all the money collected at the corn maze admission gates went into the observer’s hands, a very important task for a 17-year-old, in retrospect. Thousands of pumpkins are sold each season; Some weighed perhaps as much as 40 pounds and were sold at a low price so that owners could have empty spaces. Gourds of all shapes and sizes line the dirt roads and corn kernels are everywhere – everywhere. There’s also a huge corn pit that’s great to lie in after a day’s work.
Unlike many people in The Observer’s hometown, their family kept to itself and did not have a name that spanned generations. With no ties to the famous and successful families in that corner of Missouri, The Observer still doesn’t know how they got the job in the first place. The interview process isn’t all about quick introductions and “see you on Friday” fun.
The owners of the corn maze are a married couple who grow commercial crops on their farm year-round. They have two children who are always running around causing trouble to keep themselves busy while their parents run the operation successfully. The family unlocks the gates to their fall business each year in early October — though lately, opening day is starting earlier.
Fall nights were chilly in that part of Missouri, and guests and employees chased away the chill with flannel shirts and plenty of hot chocolate. One of the Observer’s favorite concession stand picks is a Frito pie topped with melted cheese. The smell of wet, fallen leaves and goats from the petting zoo often permeated the wooden cashier’s shed. Country music blasted from speakers around the field, and while The Observer wasn’t much of a fan of the genre, the 2016 Keith Urban hit “Blue Ain’t Your Color” ended up on a playlist or two.
The corn maze is still running and we hear it has expanded exponentially since The Observer has been there – The Observer has never returned from their working days. Facebook fame graced the old office and with it came sunflower fields, giant slides, a carousel and go-kart tracks.
Every fall, The Observer gets a little extra warmth in her heart when she remembers her first job in the maze. The cashier’s shed was very specific about the way the long bar stools washed over the uneven dirt floor; How the sound of the old walkie-talkie cut in and out, and how it felt to drive home under a dark starry sky.