Halloween 22

The end of October is fast approaching, and the wind has a chilly bite to it. Golden leaves dance across the browning lawn. This morning a few flakes of the year’s first snow fell from gathering clouds that dispersed before noon. The air carries an aroma of wood smoke from the Bitterroot Valley where open fires are still permitted. The cottonwoods’ brown leaves make a sound in the breeze like a shaman’s rattle. Halloween is less than a week away.

In a few days there will be ghosts and goblins haunting the streets of Missoula. Of course some of these tiny spirits will be dressed in disguise. Baby Yoda is popular this year as are Spiderman, firefighters, robots, cowboys and the occasional Batman (no Robin anymore). But, few of the revelers will find their way to our door as our house is at the rear of a dead end street where there are no street lamps to light he way.

It is scary back here. It even gives me the willies to walk on the rutted dirt road at night with the bare branches reaching out to scratch me and grab at my clothing. There are also occasional bears, skunks and raccoons that wander around the neighborhood. It is not unreasonable to imagine more mysterious and possible dangerous creatures slobbering and shuffling through the night. It is not for the sake of religion that the next door neighbor has a cross above his door and braids off garlic hanging next to the kitchen window.

Still, there might be a few trick-or-treaters that make their way, with adult guardians, to our door expecting a handout. It would be prudent to have some Reese’s or Kit Kat’s available rather than offer something healthy like raisins or apples. These specters will be, hopefully, after sugar not fiber; chocolate not blood. 

Sheila, asked me what Halloween was like for me “back in the day.” The question brought back some bitter memories that still bring a tear to my eye.

As a boy, I lived on a farm in the country about six miles from the western Iowa town of Mapleton. My parents were quite conservative, perhaps a side effect of belonging to a Pentecostal branch of the Lutheran church. Or, maybe it was because they were of German heritage. It could have been they were opposed to the idea of Halloween and candy from strangers. 

My friends, who also lived on farms, all seemed to have parents who loved them and would take them into Mapleton or one of the other small towns in the area on Halloween to participate in the activity known as Trick or Treat. But I could only vicariously participate on the day after the event.

One of my school mates who went to the same one-room school would brag about how much candy he acquired on Halloween and describe in some detail about the tricks played on people who either did not open their doors or refused to give up any loot to the threat of Trick or Treat. Kenny talked about soaping windows and hinted that he took part in a nastier retribution that involved putting a paper sack filled with hog manure on a porch, setting it on fire and watch the victim try to stomp the blaze out while covering his shoes with pig dung.

My gullibility left me in awe of the stories until later, when I was about forty, I realized the little bastard was probably lying.

My father, while unwilling to drive me a measly six miles, a trip that would take less than twenty bloody minute, so that I could join my friends, waxed nostalgically about Halloween when he was a kid. 

There was a bell on a tower at the fire hall that was rung every day a noon. On the day after Halloween the volunteer chief found the bell upside down, and when he went pulled on the rope he found himself under a shower of shelled corn.

When a teller opened the doors of the local bank, he found a Holstein waiting in the lobby.

A Model T rested on the roof of the town hall.

He also told me (when my mother was out of the room) about his high school years when upperclassmen would entice younger students to come with them as they drove through the countryside looking for isolated outhouses to push over. The night ended with a freshman being shoved into an open pit.

Ah yes. Great fun.

In the large garden on the farm my parents grew a lot of vegetables, but pumpkins were not among the fall harvest. Instead there was squash, lots of squash of many varieties. Acorn was always my favorite but I also liked butternut, zucchini, buttercup and bon bon. But there was one that I dreaded called banana squash. The color was a sickly gray with dull blue stripes. The banana squash grew to be a rather large size and lying in the dirt they reminded me of an old man’s head with graying skin and blue veins standing up over the scalp.

The baked banana squash’s flesh was stringy, watery, and bitter. It was my father’s favorite and during the fall and winter seasons we ate it at least once a week. 

One autumn my mother decided to make a jack o’ lantern for my sister and me. Since there were no pumpkins, she picked out an especially large banana squash and started to carve it with a butcher knife while we looked on in horror. 

The end product was not what a carved pumpkin was supposed to look like. It was actually more frightening than a jack o’lantern as it more resembled an old man’s head that had been savagely attacked by a mad butcher. The mauled squash looked so bad that even my mother decided that it would not work as a Halloween decoration, so, of course, we had it with our evening meal.

It looked like it would be a typical Halloween without a jack o’lantern, but, on a rare trip to town, Mom stopped in the Five and Dime in Mapleton and spied a cardboard and paper pumpkin that had a candle inside. The cost was not too dear, a mere twenty-five cents, and it seemed that it might be the ideal substitution for the disaster with the squash.

She brought her purchase home and put it on the front porch table where it could be seen from the dining room. When it was getting dark, she lit the candle and went to prepare supper which probably included banana squash.

Just before we sat down to eat, my sister, who was about five at the time, came screaming into the kitchen with the news that the front porch was on fire.

Well, it wasn’t exactly a blazing inferno, but the wax of the candle had melted through to the wooden table and it had started to burn. Even painting the table top could no hide the circle that was left after the fire had spontaneously extinguished itself.

There are no children around us anymore, no one to go out with on the night of Halloween, but we do have a sack of candy waiting, our favorites of course. And, by god, we have a real jack o’lantern painstakingly carved out of a pumpkin, a real pumpkin.

3 thoughts on “Halloween 22

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