Smiling Jack-O-Lanterns, pumpkin-scented candles glowing, pumpkin spice coffee creamer in my pumpkin spice coffee, and candy–lots and lots of candy. Boo! It’s Halloween. What’s not to love. I don’t know about you, but my memories of Halloween are both scary and sweet. Here are some of my favorite Halloween memories.
Today, the haunted houses scream horror movie set, with one located on nearly every block. Back in the old days, there was only one truly haunted house in our area, known as “Scream in the Dark”. Renowned for being extremely intense, my brothers and I waited in line for hours just to say we survived this horrific experience. Set in a truly eerie, condemned, old mansion, “Scream in the Dark” sat on a huge lot of land, off one of the main streets in our city. Actually, the scariest aspects of “Scream in the Dark” were the “Headless Horsemen” that roamed the property, and exorbitant admission fees they charged.
Another of my favorite Halloween memories featured our dog, Machen, and a neighbor/friend of the family. First, you need to understand that Machen was a registered German Shepard, trained as a guard dog. Machen’s previous owners, were moving and needed someone to take her. When my mom, a true dog lover laid eyes on this majestic dog, it was love at first sight. Apparently, the feeling was mutual. So, without giving a thought to the consequences of having a guard dog as a family pet, Machen became our pet. One Halloween, Mr. Dailey, neighbor and family friend(at least prior to this incident)dropped by our house, unexpectantly, to show us his Halloween costume–a black and white striped prison convict’s outfit. As soon as the door opened, Machen caught sight of the “convict”. In a flash she was off, charging toward the door to protect her family from this “dangerous” intruder. Fortunately, Mr. Dailey, fairly spry on his feet, bolted out of our house, and reached the front door just seconds before our dog caught up to him, his life flashing before his eyes. Though traumatized, Mr. Dailey remained our friend–but made sure to call our house before any personal visits to verify our dog was secure, and he would be safe.
Costumes, a hallmark of Halloween, bring up fond memories, too. My mom, a working mom, came up with some truly creative and inventive costumes for us to wear. What she lacked in time, she made up for in originality. Draping and wrapping oriental fabric around me like a kimono, face powdered , perfectly applied make-up, hair styled, and, instantly I transformed into a Geisha–a real china doll. Too cute. Then, there was the year mom, seeing how important it was to me, agreed to make a homemade Lil’ Bo Peep outfit for me to wear to the school carnival. It was made of a beautiful shiny blue and gold brocade-like material, lace on the hem, neckline and sleeves, and, instead of a bonnet, Mom made a sweet matching cap out of the same material. I wore my costume proudly through the halls of my school carnival, and later on as Meg in the play Little Women. Recently, I ran across a photo of me dressed up in another of my mom’s creations. About eight years old, wearing an elegant turquoise dress, with a slim black-belt, fashionable straw hat, tiny stocking feet perilously perched on oversized high heels, face perfectly painted, wearing elbow-length white gloves, standing next to my parent’s car, I was a genuine Glamor Girl. Stunning.
Not only was it fun to dress up in costumes, there was another reason I looked forward to Halloween–the annual Halloween Carnival at my grade school. It was awesome. I’m not sure who designed it, but there was an amazing haunted house set up in the school’s art department, where the fantastic props were no doubt created. I distinctly remember bodiless, bloody heads sitting on tables draped in white, no doubt covering the bodies underneath the tables that were, in fact, thankfully attached to the bloody heads on top. These “bloody heads” freaked me out because they would talk to you as you walked by. Really creepy. I also remember a slithering, live snake at one of the spooky stations in the haunted house. That’s all it took, and I was out of the room in a flash, screaming all the way.
In addition to the scary stuff, the Halloween Carnival featured fun games for families to play, like Go Fish. My favorite game was called Cake Walk. Similar to Musical Chairs, players walked around a circle located on the floor covered in numbers, while music played. As soon as the music stopped, you stopped, and located the number nearest to you. A number was drawn out of a hat, and the person standing on the corresponding number was the winner. The prize was, as you may have surmised, a cake. Not a slice, but a whole freakin’ cake. The winner would walk over to a table brimming with all sorts of cakes, some homemade, some store-bought, and choose their favorite cake. The earlier in the evening you won in the Cake Walk, the better the cake/prize. I looked forward to this game every year. In fact, one year, not only did I win a cake, but my brothers also won cakes. That makes three cakes–one a piece! Another delightful game I absolutely adored was the Doll Walk. Exactly like the Cake Walk, only the prize was your choice of dolls. Some of these dolls were very nice, indeed. Plus one year, my brother, Rich, in a rare act of humility and kindness, actually won a round of the Doll Walk and picked out a beautiful blond doll in a lovely red dress, and presented her to me. Shades of the generous man he would ultimately become.
As for the sweet, you can’t talk about Halloween without mentioning Trick or Treating, and, of course, candy. Another year, my mom, the consummate costumer, worked her magic yet again, dressing us in some of dad’s old torn shirts, floppy felt hats, and charcoaled cheeks. Suddenly, we were three, albeit, cute hobos. Eager to head out the door, mom taught us a song, “just in case someone asks you for a trick before they give you a treat”. Now, as experienced Trick or Treaters, we had never encountered anyone ever calling us on our offer of Trick–ever. So, as usual, mom, was “over” preparing us for something unlikely to happen. Smart kids, we wisely patronized our mom, and learned the Trick, consisting of learning the song, “Side-By-Side”. I still remember the words.
Though we ain’t got a barrel of money,
Maybe we’re ragged and funny.
But we travel along,
Singin’ a song,
After enduring mom’s music lesson, we were off. Typically, we ran down to the end of our block, working our way back toward our house, stopping only briefly for updates and the latest reconnaissance from neighbor kids who’d already surveyed the sugar situation. Homes with Snickers–good. Unidentifiable taffy–bad. Nearly home, we stopped at a house located across the street from ours. A lovely, little ol’ lady answered our knock. Opening the door, and spying three little hobos, simultaneously we cried, “Trick or Treat”. Opening our bags wide with anticipation, we fully expected the automatic dumping of treats into them. However, with a rather sheepish grin, the dear lady muttered, “Trick first, then Treat”. What? You’ve got to be kidding–in all our years of Trick-or-Treating, no one had ever dared ask us for a trick. Until now. How did my mom know? After the initial shock of her request, and the horrible realization that we’d have to perform in order to be rewarded treats, I started to sing, “Side-By-Side”. Dumbstruck, my brothers mouths were wide open, but nothing was coming out. So, instead of singing “Side-By-Side” as a trio, I was singing solo. In retrospect, the song I should have sung was “All By Myself”. Such is the plight of being the older sister. As my solo rendition concluded, our neighbor lady finally rewarded us with many treats. Proving once again, that mom is always right.
Today, we still celebrate Halloween, though a little differently than when I was a young girl. One of my family’s favorite traditions is watching Disney’s version of “Sleepy Hollow”. You just can’t beat Bing Crosby narrating and singing his way through Washington Irving’s Tale of Ichabod Crane. We’ll also be enjoying fifty cent corn dogs from Sonic, along with a free Halloween-themed donut from Krispy Kreme. I also keep a large bag of candy ready, just in case there are any Trick-or-Treaters. And, if you happen to find yourself in my neighborhood on Halloween, beware. Don’t say “Trick-or-Treat” unless you really mean it. Now, go scare up some Halloween memories of your own!