I was hoping my Veterans wouldn’t think a corn maze was lame. I don’t think running through a corn maze is lame, so when my dear friends, DJ and Loretta Duncan of Duncan’s Corn Maze in Robesonia, PA offered my non profit, RiverHouse PA a free event, I was excited. An afternoon/evening at one of the loveliest dairy farms in Berks County doing fun things- what a great release from the VA medical center that would be.
As soon as the vans pull up, the Vets tumble out with warm embraces, even the ones meeting me for the first time. They must get cued in on the drive over, but who has too many hugs in life? Rec therapists, Amy & Ida open up the back of the vans and immediately pull out snacks, like young boys who are always starving. I gave them the run down of the day:
Corn Maze exploration, with a challenge game attached; gourd chucking with giant sling shots aiming at toilet bowls and other metal contraptions, sliding down inside black, ribbed irrigation tubes, a hay ride, a farm tour to the milking parlor to see how cows are automatically milked, meet the baby calves just born, prepare Bunyon Burgers themselves and cook over charcoal, then ….. ignite colored paper lanterns, let them swell with hot air and release into the night sky. Sounds like big fun.
As soon as they spotted the slingshots they were off- something to shoot!!!! Loretta gave them buckets to go into the fields and gather gourds. One came back with a huge neck pumpkin. “Not that! That’s to make pumpkin pie,” she informed them, but they would have shot anything.
They behaved like little kids, cheering each other’s accomplishments when their gourd whacked something right on. They paired off to ride the see saws, and I am sure they had not been on one for decades. So much happy laughter echoing around the fields.
Loretta finally pulled them away from the shooter and gave them their cue sheet to locate multiple locations inside the corn maze. The first one to find and gather all of them, won. They ran off in teams, helping open another and playing in the sunlight like youngsters. I stood atop the elevated stairs in the maze and happily watched them. No one was thinking about therapy or re-hab, and yet that is exactly what they were doing, returning to a simpler happier time before drugs and alcohol and depression, re-habbing.
Then my board member Tim Minnich taught them how to assemble and build their foil Bunyon Burgers with a huge ground beef patty, and a variety of sliced potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, peppers and a wide selection of gravy and sauce mixes to add along with a little water. While they cooked and steamed, the Vets went back to more playing. And when Tim announced they were cooked, they slowly unwrapped the foil, allowing the steam and the delicious aromas to escape, none believing how incredibly delicious they were and that they made it themselves.
Next, the tractor was brought down and a long hay wagon that the Vets climbed into. Up to the milking parlous where they saw how the girls are ushered in, their teats cleaned and disinfected, the suction tubes attached, and the milk extracted. The cows are so big and slightly intimidating if you are a city boy, which some of the Vets are, but they learned where our milk comes from, saw the actual process of getting it, asked a million questions about the work load, the milk quantity, how much the coats eat, their schedule, how they long they live and on and on. The were truly fascinated and excited to learn.
Next we went to the calf barn and the Vets were surprised how desperately the young things wanted to suck on their fingers as many were new borns and had the uncontrollable desire to nurse. A few of the Vets had to jump right into the pens and bond with the babies, some even talking to them in a soft voice like a cow whisperer. There were lots of teasing about the sucking too but that was to be expected.
Back at the campfire, I took out my brightly colored paper lanterns, opened them up, inserted the fuel square and we went about lighting them. The guys very gently held the lantern open and helped it expand, working in teams. The could see the colored tissue paper swelling from the hot air inside and feel it wanting to go, up, into the heavens. Soon, with just soft fingertips, they released them and we threw our heads back and watched them climb higher and higher into the night sky, bright glowing colored orbs floating and gently rocking with the stars. It was so heartening.
Before the Vets went back to the medical center, Amy & Ida had them go around the campfire and take a turn and share what this event meant to them. Loretta sat transfixed as she listened. Amy & Ida said that it had done even their heart good to hear so many of their guys laughing and being so genuinely happy. Many admitted to having had a very hard week, being very challenged and down. But all of that dissipated here at the farm.
“When I released that sky lantern tonight,” one admitted, “I felt a real release inside of me, a lifting up, a letting go of my past life.”
Another said, “I was reminded today that there is a whole other life out here for me- sober.”
And yet another said, “I so enjoyed being a kid again. I realize I could be and I should be doing these kinds of things with my own son.”
Some of the Vets said that that they had experienced up to six firsts in their life there at the Duncan Farm. And one said that it had truly been “The Best Day of his Life.” And that comment stopped me, took my breath away. The “BEST” day of his life. Really? He was in his 40’s. I was beginning to put this afternoon into perspective.
After we said our good-byes, I went up to Loretta and after thanking her for this great gift she and DJ had given my Vets, I said, “What do you think? Wasn’t that campfire talk something?
She said, “I never thought of a corn maze as being that big of a deal.”
“It was to them,” I told her. “To some of them, it meant the whole world. You never met them before tonight and yet you gave them this night. That is huge in their eyes. You just have no idea what kind of impact you can have. Who would have thought a corn maze could do so much.
PS If you would like to sponsor an event for the Veterans of River House PA, please get in touch, or if you would like to sponsor dinner (about $200 an event for 24 people) get in touch- you will be invited to attend, and will have a story written about the event, besides helping to heal our Veterans! A 501C3, tax deductible!!!