Halloween has always been my favorite time of the year. I know that things have changed since I was young. You don’t see the crowds of kids in Superman costumes, hobo garb, clown suits and ghost sheets the way you used to. Nowadays kids are too cool for all that foolishness.
Nevertheless, I still celebrate it every chance I get. For years it was my great tradition to decorate my front lawn with as much booga-booga paraphernalia as I could manage.
What did I have?
Well, for starters, there was a great foam core full moon, painted bright metallic gold and on the highest peak of my roof. In front of that full moon dangled a witch on a broomstick – made from a homemade scarecrow stuffed with sheets and rags and shirts that I had outgrown.
Lord, I have grown through an awful lot of shirts since then. From size medium to extra-large – how the heck could I managed to shrink so much laundry?
On the front lawn was a pair of large sawhorses with an old door slung across them and a huge stuffed Frankenstein monster stretched out. A pair of diabolical looking juice jugs with plastic tubing served as a makeshift IV.
I’m not saying this was fancy, you understand, but it had all of the heart that I could manage to inject into it.
Speaking of heart, one year I found a garbage bag of stuffed animals on the curbside. I salvaged a fine fat stuffed penguin and laid him out on the top of huge wooden stump that I dragged from out back where it usually served as a chopping block for my firewood. I tied that stuffed penguin to the top of the chopping block, inserted a set of finely-crafted foamcore fangs into his beak, and then drove a wooden stake with the butt of my axe – directly into the heart of that vampiric tuxedoed penguin. A few artful dribbles of homemade blood and the work was complete.
My yew bush, a fine fat hunk of shrubbery grew long black plastic tentacles. At the foot of the yew bush I built a mouth with a pair of old stuffed jeans and some mildwed funkified workboots poked out from the jaws of the yew bush. The tentacles were arranged so that the trick or treaters would have to walk beneath the overhanging tentacles along the sidewalk to get to my door. Above my door hung a spider web crafted from the remnants of a hockey net. Above that spider web dangled a huge black fuzzy spider about as large as a bushel basket. Inside the web was a small stuffed Spiderman costume, with its arms and legs pretzelled into unmistakable dead-as-a-doornail angles.
Some nights I would sit out there on that front step beneath that spider web dressed in a big old homemade Frankenstein monster suit with a great black pea coat and a big old fabric head. I would sit just as still as I could until someone walked up and then I would stand and yell something profound like “Booga booga.”
The windows would be painted with black cats, and several carved pumpkins sometimes aided by our black cat who would stare balefully out the window at any approaching trick or treaters.
There were also several scarecrows staked out in front of our lawn – but the highlight was our cemetery. Every year I dragged the old tombstones – decorated with the names of various horror actors and authors – as well as their birth and death dates. Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, H.P. Lovecraft, Oscar Wilde, Bela Lugosi and many others were buried each year upon our front lawn.
Then, I would spend hours raking leaves from the backyard to the front. I would rake them from the curbside and the neighbour’s lawn. By the time I was finished that front yard would be covered with about a half a foot deep in multicolored dead autumn leaves. Then I would scatter plastic bones and chunks of driftwood and plastic machetes and cleavers and the like.
Yes sir and yes ma ’m – I did Halloween up in a real big way.
But the strangest Halloween of all happened the year that I decided that my front yard needed an honest-to-god gallows. I constructed it out of scrap two by fours – artfully nailed together in a fashion that would make Red Green look skillful. I hung a huge scarecrow with a noose that was tied in a perfect hangman’s knot.
All right, so my wife tied the knot but I thought the idea up so I still get to wear my Old Spice manly cologne.
That gallows looked good, standing out there just behind the graveyard with a couple of orange floodlights shining on it.
Two days after the gallows went up a woman knocked on my door.
“Mister,” she told me. “My kids love your Halloween yard every year but they can’t walk by here without crying because my husband, in a fit of depression, hung himself in our basement just last year.”
You could not have stunned me harder if you had struck me full in the forehead with a caulking mallet.
I hastily apologized and promised the gallows would come down that very day. I called in to work and told them I had to stay home today. I cut the arm of the gallows and lowered the big old scarecrow down. Then I dressed the scarecrow up in drag – giving him a high peaked witch’s hat and a long black gown. My wife stitched up a hag’s beak and shoved his chin forward. Then I tied him to the two-by-four that stood upright. I built a heap of firewood and decorated it with red and yellow and orange cellophane-style wrapping paper. When I hit it with the orange floodlights it metamorphosed from a hung scarecrow to a witch burning at the stake.
I figured I was safe.
There was no way that any neighbor would have burned themselves at the stake last year, the year before or the year before that.
It is a funny story, telling it now – but I want you to know that I felt like ten kinds of stupid hearing about that woman’s crying kids. It showed me that there is another side to Halloween. It is a doorway from the happy of summer to the long bitter wake of cold winter. It is a time of when the old people would carry tribute to their recently dead and their thoughts would turn to the hereafter, and folks would gather around their woodstoves and talk of those who had passed away.
Halloween wasn’t always candy and trick or treaters.
Still, the story did have a happy ending.
I was so pleased with how the graveyard looked that I left it until Christmas before I finally took it down. Early that December, my wife’s sister decided to take advantage of a neighborhood bus tour that was tooling around the local streets admiring the various Christmas lights.
When they passed our house the tour guide kind of choked on his spit and gasped out “Who the heck lives there – the Adams Family?”
“No,” my sister-in-law quietly said. “That’s my sister’s house.”
Any truths that were stretched in the spinning of this yarn probably needed a good workout anyway.
Yours in storytelling,