When I was growing up, we had a particularly horrid Halloween witch that scared the Bejebus out of all of us kids. Every night, she was returned to her place of honor in the middle of our kitchen table, where she sat grimacing and warty, waiting for the poor, unfortunate child who might have to return after hours for a glass of water. If we were dying of thirst, we came in the way we came out—a pillow held to our chest, singing, “I am a Child of God” and making direct eye contact with her cardboard expression, so she couldn’t come clawing after us when we turned our backs.
Year after year, we brought her back out. Probably because we couldn’t really afford anything else. And also, because there WASN’T really anything else. Halloween was much simpler back then, friends. A few poster board pictures taped to a window, jack-o-lanterns on the porch and dum-dum suckers for trick-or-treaters. VOILA! Done.
We had exactly three costumes to choose from in our box—a clown, a witch and a giant pumpkin stuffed fat and full with crumpled up newspaper. This was back when a giant pumpkin was a novelty, because King’s only sold skeleton, ghost and witch ensembles, with plastic masks that had teeny holes for the eyes and a little slit for the mouth...which we used to stick our tongue through before putting it back on the shelf for some other unsuspecting kid to buy. But remember, this was back in the 70‘s and we were much less concerned with infectious diseases.
Now far as I know, I was the very first giant pumpkin at Syracuse Elementary, and I rocked that squash better than any girl had a right to. Until I had to go to the bathroom, and then things went south on account of there was this big safety pin holding the neck closed, keeping the newspaper stuffing corralled. Once the costume was dismantled, the reassembly was near impossible for a seven year old child, which is why I sat weeping in the stall for an hour before my teacher came to save me.
She pulled me together just in time for the loudspeaker announcement we’d all been waiting for—”OKAY EVERYBODY, LINE UP! IT’S TIME FOR THE HALLOWEEN COSTUME PARADE!”
I can’t even begin to describe what this event meant to us. It was simply...black magical. Children and adults alike, lining the hallways and classrooms, applauding awards for “Most Beautiful,” and “Scariest!” Siblings shouting and waving en route, all of us guessing who was behind each yarn wig and Indian face painting. The hallways smelled of popcorn and the overwhelming anticipation of the evening’s activities just about dropped us to our scabby little knees, as it was all we could do not to clench our fists and give a primordial scream to the blue October sky that would soon turn dark and bewitching.
Then some big fat bawl-tit complained that the district shouldn’t be observing a demonic holiday, and masks were hazardous to our health and no child deserves to be THAT happy, thus, let us do away with this ritual and replace it with, oh, I don’t know...nothing?
So they did. And bawl-tit was happy.
Bawl-tit laid low for a few years, which allowed the BRILLIANT minds of Scott Denhalter, Ken Robbins and Seldon Young to write, direct and produce the scariest haunted house ever known to man—CALIGARI’S CLINIC!
It was held at the Freeport Center, which used to be a naval base and POW camp. Long vacant, the warehouse smelled of desolation and misery—the perfect backdrop for a haunted insane asylum. Production included every member in the Syracuse 7th LDS ward, and drew crowds from hundreds of miles away.
Visitors toured the facility, following guides like Dracula and Quasimodo, as they showed off the accomplishments of the infamous Dr. Caligari. Hags spit peeled grape loogies at unsuspecting guests while Pat Handrahan fed body parts into a meat grinder. When his own arm was wrenched into the blades, his squirting, bloody stump sprayed the audience, made even more horrifying because he really was missing an arm.
Dan Mildon sat in a corner while real tarantulas climbed all over his lifeless body. False ceilings gave way to hanging corpses, impaled women lined the hallways, dripping blood, and Stan Sims threw himself down the stairs, landing at the screaming feet of patrons who had nowhere to run or hide.
Then, at the very end, after passing the deranged dentist and the moaning patients and real guillotine and rolling heads—when you had exited the warehouse and finally believed you were safe and sound, a witch vomited watery oatmeal out of an upper window, where it splatted onto your head. SO AWESOME!
Course, along came bawl-tit, and blah, blah, blah, “Inappropriate” “Gruesome”, and Caligari’s Clinic was shut down forever more.
Well anyway, all of these memories combine in the witches cauldron of my mind, where just like the scaryashell kitchen decoration, I pull them out and set them in their place of honor. Warty, giant pumpkin, insane, costume parade recollections of ghosts of Halloweens past. And as I cackle down memory lane, I sometimes wish that I might revisit those days...
...if only to punch bawl-tit in the mouth.
Bless his fun-hatin’ heart.