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Familiar Haunts

by Robin Rieger
Did I ever mention I’m a scaredy cat?

I put my thumbs over my ears and my fingers over my eyes during scary movies and once while reading a Dean Koontz novel in broad daylight. I couldn’t shake the feeling that whatever was stalking the book’s main character was also stalking me. The goosebumps wouldn’t go away so I stopped reading the book. This is the month of scary right? Halloween is just a few weeks away and soon many different sizes of bodies draped in black with the Scream mask covering their face will knock at our door and say trick or treat. Some people in our community will go all out with scary Halloween displays including coffins on the lawn that someone will jump out of. It’s great fun. This is the year I would like to attempt ... think I could handle ... could probably survive with the proper support … a haunted hayride or night of terror.

South Jersey has plenty of farms turned into entertainment venues to scare the pants off you in the weeks leading up to Halloween. Google “haunted hayride South Jersey” and plenty come up. The description I read from one in Southampton is written to invite thrill seekers who can “take on the asylum and run from zombies in search of fresh meat.” I laughed hysterically when I read a line that followed: “Better take your meds and pack some fresh undies before you come to this haunt.”

In person, I’m sure I’d cry hysterically. Another ad from a fright fest in Gloucester County asks “Can you find your escape or will you be lost to the creatures of the Dreaded Cornfield Maze?”

I have been to that venue at a farm in Mullica Hill years ago. It was the first time in a long time I had been to any- thing haunted with my older sister and the last time as well. I wasn’t willing to be the leader of our group, nor was I willing to be the last of us either as our turn came to take the tour. She and I ended up in the middle, me behind her, and all I can remember after the first thing that scared us in the darkness is clinging to her back like a tick. I hid under her shirt and held on to her for dear life as I screamed and screamed. If it was at all possible I’d have gotten under her skin to save myself from the Boogeyman who had gotten under my skin and who I thought would surely grab me at the next turn. I could probably have knocked us to the ground, I’m pretty sure my own legs weren’t working. Afterwards, at my expense, we had quite a few laughs safely away from the perceived danger. I guess it’s this type of fright that attracts people to seek thrills like these and gives plenty of farms a needed extra season of business.

Clearly these are not venues for children, but many farms nearby cater to all ages with cornfield mazes and activities that are more fun than scary. This is what I really look forward to in the fall.

When the weather finally turns and the sweater or light jacket you needed in the morning is called into use during the day, you know you’ve left sum- mer behind. Even with the occasional warm Indian summer day we can get in October, it’s time to enjoy autumn’s crisp air and colorful trees. Our 10-year-old son and I enjoyed an awesome cornfield maze in Cherry Hill last year that we will attempt again. We followed a map that could be decoded with 3D glasses and spent a cool afternoon together amid browning corn- stalks still taller than him. The rest of the scenery was red, gold and orange as trees followed their life cycle and reminded me of the passage of time.

It doesn’t seem like it was too long ago that Tom and I took hayrides with our kids. Our daughter, who is now 13, was small enough to lean on a huge pumpkin she claimed and put her arms out on either side of it like she was fly- ing. It’s one of my favorite pictures of her.

Pumpkins aren’t the only items you can pick this time of year either. Farms from Medford to Mullica Hill and beyond market their apple picking hayrides and the avail- able variety of apples at different times of the season. My favorite apples are stayman and winesap. They are crisp and really tart, perfect for caramel dip or an apple bake and it’s fun to go down the rows with your family and pick your own from the leafy trees.

A visit to any one of these places is your chance to see up close many of the working farms in our area that depend on you to buy what they grow to stay in business. You get to enjoy a cornfield in its “twilight” after it’s provided a sweet treat at your dinner table all summer long. Those same cornstalks and pumpkins decorate our porches this time of year. I try to picture the Garden State without these gems and I think that’s really scary.

Robin Rieger is a former anchor and reporter with CBS 3. A lifelong South Jersey resident, she lives with her husband, Philadelphia 76ers Radio play-by-play broadcaster Tom McGinnis, and their two children in Burlington County.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 7 (October, 2016).
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