As autumn comes, the smell and sound of dried leaves on the ground brings back many memories of my kids growing up. I smile to myself, thinking back to the times our family and friends spent having Halloween fun with others in our neighborhood.
    It all began when our two boys, Curtis and Spencer, wanted to have a Halloween party with their friends. They were in first and second grade. We invited all of the kids in their classes along with their parents for a potluck costume party.
    We played games, had candy prizes and told scary stories in the dark with a flashlight. The story teller was great. As she told the stories, she passed around eyeballs, maggots on chopped off fingers and a bowl of worms. The kids squealed and screamed. After the lights came back on, they laughed when they realized it was peeled grapes, rice and mini hot dogs, and cold spaghetti.
    We had planned to do a hayride by the light of the moon after the kids picked a pumpkin. A few parents wanted to go on the wagon and others wanted to hide and spook the kids on the ride. Duane drove the tractor and wagon next to the round bales of corn stalks that were in the field. Anna and Catherine were 11 months old and were carried in baby backpacks, as my friend Gina and I hid behind the bales with sheets over us to look like ghosts as the wagon rode by. We stood up and yelled, “Boo!” as the kids screamed. The other parents howled in the tree line. If I remember correctly, I was laughing so hard I peed my pants.
    That was the start of many Octobers with these kids and their parents. We had an old machinery shed that was not being used because it was filled with stuff that was saved by Duane’s parents. Tires, batteries, old wagon gear and many cans of bent nails. Keith and Ruth lived through the depression, and these items were valuable to them, but we all worked together and recycled them.
    We hauled in straw bales for walls, hung bunker plastic and made paths and rooms in our new haunted barn. All of the kids picked out costumes. It became the Spookers’ and Hinchleys’ Haunts. After all the hard work creating the rooms, props, the lighting and music, everyone was ready. For the last weekend in October, we invited the kids from Cambridge and Deerfield to check it out.
    The kids learned how to wait, stay still and then make a sound or noise. They learned the art of scaring. Eric was so good at being a monster in a dog kennel, he would scare the others as they got into their spots to wait. So many girls had a gift for a loud, scary scream. I couldn’t believe they could talk after the night was through. As the hayride went, spookers hid in the standing corn, crawled on the wagon and sat by expecting victims. The kids learned where and when to pop out of the tree line when the riders were not expecting it. The wagon wove back and forth, and the spookers repeatedly scared the riders in different locations, making it seem like we had a gang of kids out there. In reality, we had a group of 15 or so kids who loved running around in the field and hiding in the barn.
    Year after year, the spookers would come out and change themes. As our kids got older, it got much more frightening. Monsters, clowns, aliens and zombies with chainsaws. Crowds of people came to get scared. They came on cold nights, raining nights and nights when the wind blew.
    In 2013, the highway department let us know the road by our farm was going to be widened, and our barn was too close to the road. It would be taken down during the expansion. We had one last season. The theme was Hotel California; the kids were all zombies. The Eagles song played as the spookers screamed, used a grinder to make sparks and squirted fake blood from severed limbs. After the crowd finished going through the barn, “Thriller” by Micheal Jackson played loud, and the zombie spookers came out to chase them. Anna and Catherine cannot stand those songs because they were played so many times in a night.
    Throughout the following spring, we took down all the props and black lights. We put the masks, fog machines and costumes into plastic totes and put them on a shelf in the shed. That was where they sat for many years, reminding me of the haunted barn every time I saw them.
    We had to do some cleaning for Anna’s wedding, and both of my girls told me these masks and props needed to go. As we pulled out the totes and looked through the masks, I remember clearly the faces of the kids who wore them. I can picture it like it was yesterday. The kids all sitting on the picnic tables in the warm shed. Drinking hot cocoa, eating hot dogs and pizza at the end of the night, talking about how well they made others scream.
    Anna has been posting the masks and props for sale, and people are making appointments to come and look. At first, it was hard for me to let these items go. I wanted to hold on to it all. Almost like I was afraid that if these masks, props and costumes leave, I might forget all of those nights with all of the kids.
    My girls assure me we will remember certain things about those nights, both good and bad. We will remember special things about the old barn, the smell of the dirt floor, and the sounds of the wind blowing through the barn boards as we waited quietly for a group to venture in. They also tell me they will never forget a word in both songs of “Hotel California” and “Thriller.”
    Tina Hinchley, her husband, Duane, and their daughters, Anna and Catherine, milk 240 registered Holsteins with robots. They also farm 2,300 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wisconsin.  They have been hosting farm tours for over 20 years.