Halloween

When I grew up, Halloween was a big deal. I never had a fancy costume, but my mom let me buy a new plastic mask at the dime store each year. I carried my candy in a big plastic jack o’lantern that had a smiley face on one side and a frowny face on the other.

The worst Halloween I ever had was the night my pony escaped. After getting home late from work, my dad had to drop everything to drive out to the farm where we kept him to get him back in the fence. There was no trick-or-treating with my friends that night. (And before you think you I was a spoiled little girl, bear in mind that I saved $25 in pennies, answered a farmer’s ad on Swap and Shop, and arranged for Jerry to be delivered in the back of a ton truck to my grandparent’s house all by myself. I was a determined child. I just didn’t realize then what a sacrifice my father made for me. I realize now.)

Because I was determined, I couldn’t imagine a Halloween without trick or treating, so I found a paper grocery bag, cut out eyes and a mouth, and visited the two neighbors to the left and right of Mom and Pa Bell’s house, which was across the highway from Jerry’s barn. For me, Halloween was never about the candy. I just liked the eerie feeling of the night. I liked the stories. But back then the monsters never really showed up, and there was something cozy about feeling scared and secure at the same time. Now the monsters are much more prevalent. If you don’t believe me, just watch the evening news.

Every Halloween my dad and I picked out a pumpkin, and as I got older, I would draw a face on it and carve it myself. I can still remember laying a newspaper on the rug and scooping out the pumpkin’s insides. Ewww. It was kind of gross and kind of fun at the same time.

Then I would set the pumpkin on our front porch and light a candle to place inside. I never wanted the night to end. I stayed up as late as I could, and my mom would carry the pumpkin from the front porch and put it near my bed for the glow and pumpkin aroma to lull me to sleep. I hated waking up to November 1 because I knew I’d have to wait another year to tell spooky stories and to look for ghosts.

Ghosts have always been my guilty pleasure.

I am an adamant believer in the spirit world, but I don’t believe ghosts are the spirits of the deceased. I used to worry that my ghost stories would offend fellow believers, but then I met Charles K. Wolfe, who was my English professor at MTSU. Thanks to Dr. Wolfe, I realized my love for ghosts was actually my love for storytelling and folklore. He encouraged me to embrace my own family folklore and oral tradition, and as a result, I wrote my first published article while a student in his folklore class. Many years later my story made its way into The Tennessee Folklore Sampler.

When I think about Halloween, I can’t help but think about my mom. Her birthday fell the day before. I always made a point to find her a fun Halloween birthday card because I knew it made her happy, or maybe it just made me happy. I credit my mom for turning me on to storytelling. She and I used to stay up late talking about the Bell Witch, and then she would knock on my bedroom wall when I went to bed later that night. She had a bit of mischief about her, but the joke was on her because I usually ended up wide awake in parents’ bed listening for the slightest noise.

Today I still collect stories—folklore, urban legends, ghost stories, whatever you wish to call them. And I ask my students to collect them. Stories ignite our creativity, preserve our family heritage, and serve as means of social control. Sociologists and folklorists tell us that “scary” stories help keep wayward teenagers in line and curious children from wandering away. Remember what happened to Hansel and Gretal!

In a few hours, I will be on the road to research for my manuscript Crossroads. It’s a dark, perhaps stormy night, and I’ll leave it up to you to guess where I’m headed. You’ll have to check the next blog to find out the details. Until then, happy storytelling.

Sometimes they come back

It’s not that I go out looking for a fight. Sometimes the fight comes to me. I feel like a retired gunslinger in an old Western.

When the new guy reaches for his holster, I can’t turn my back. I have to shoot him down, metaphorically speaking, of course.

Years ago when we were cocky, young teachers with an attitude, my husband and I made a proclamation —no student would ever roll our yard on Halloween.

They tried. We won.

Having previously defended our fortress with a water hose and the low, moaning growls of a faux Doberman, we were confident we could thwart any misguided plans.

We didn’t count on Darryl T.

Darryl T was a student in my homeroom, a good-natured young man who possessed a tenacious spirit that refused to be beaten.

He challenged. I smirked.

“You don’t stand a chance, boy.”

He wore a smile, but underneath his pleasantries I knew he was mad. His rosy red cheeks were his tell.

The stars made their appearance shortly after dusk, and then the chilly temps set in, reminding us to dress appropriately in black sweats and a jacket so that we could blend in with the night and stay warm. We turned off the lights and hid the car in the backyard. We assumed our positions. Kenny took look-out from the rooftop. I remained low and hid behind the shrubbery. He manned the water hose. I knelt beside a bucket of water balloons.

We wanted to lure the suckers in.

It worked. Ever so often, a carload of hoodlums pulled up. We let them toss a roll or two, and then we ambushed them, soaking them down and sending them back to their cars like drowned rats.

But first we took their toilet paper, the spoils of war. Hey, tissue ain’t cheap, and teachers ain’t rich. We stockpiled for leaner days.

Then along came Darryl T, a one-man TPing machine.

He was confident and prepared. I think he had strapped a Charmin arsenal on his back. We let him toss, oh, maybe a dozen rolls. Then we made him clean it up. We sent him home, defeated. The night wore on, and we had school the next day. All the other hoodlums had gone home for the evening.

But Darryl T came back.

He had twice as much toilet paper this time, but we were tired, and we wanted to end the shenanigans. It was time to call it a day.

We stopped him before he put up one roll. We stood our ground and sent him home. But, again, we kept the tissue. A hour or two passed, and I had already settled into my jammies and was watching a late-night movie when I heard the car door slam.

“Oh, no. It can’t be.”

I looked at my husband in utter amazement. Surely, Darryl T wasn’t back.

A peek through the living room curtains confirmed my suspicions.

“Show him no mercy,” I said.

This time we let him toss all the rolls, and then we made him clean it up. He wasn’t happy. His red cheeks glowed like the fuse of a freshly-lit M80, just seconds from going off.

He drove away. We won.

Or so we thought.

It must have been close to midnight when we heard a horrible THUD, coming from the front yard. Over and over and over again.

Thud.

Thud.

Thud.

I slipped on my jeans and an old sweat shirt. But when we looked out the window, we saw Darryl T, heaving a one of those industrial-strength commercial rolls of toilet paper high into the air. You know what I’m talking about, the GIANT rolls that you see in the bathrooms at Walmart or, in Darryl T’s case, a fast-food restaurant.

He positioned it between his knees and then hefted it toward the lower branches of a tree.

Thud.   

It didn’t go far.

Kenny and I debated what to do. The choice was obvious.

Let him win.

Anyone who would go to the trouble of stealing giant rolls of TP and trying to toss them deserved bragging rights. We watched for a while and then settled back into our routine. Several minutes later we heard a knock at the door. Darryl T stood there with a look of agony on his bright red face.

“Uh, my car died. In your drive way. I think it’s my battery. Think you could jump me off?”

“Sure, Darryl T, right after you clean up this mess.”

He tried. We won.

This is how I roll

 

Well, ye mateys, they be plotting against me.

You saw what they did to my room, and now they say they’re bringing more.

It’s almost Halloween. I kind of expect that sort of thing this time of year.

All of those young whipper snappers are plotting, thinking they’re going to “go rolling,” saying they’re going to “get the old teacher.” I guess that would be “me”—”I” if I’m acting in the capacity of English/journalism teacher and I’m feeling like using proper grammar.

Young people, I don’t want to disappoint you, but you won’t get much fight out of me these days. I’ve already been there, done that. There is nothing I haven’t seen. Nothing I haven’t done.

Back in the day, I used to be the Chuck Norris of pranksters.

Back in the day.

I remember a time, back in the day, when Kenny and I were young, foolish, and pre-children. That was pre-Weight Watchers and pre-blood pressure medication too, but that’s another story.

I digress.

We were coming home around twilight one evening and saw a little gold car, orbiting our neighborhood. We knew what was happening. Yard rollers were plotting, so we sought revenge.

Being young, foolish and agile, Kenny pulled on his black hoodie and his black graduation robe from college, and he climbed onto the roof of our house, armed with the water hose.

I had to plan my strategy.

Our school had just had its Homecoming festivities the previous week, and I had decorated my room with two “dummies” that looked like little hippies for our sixties theme. Oh, I spent so much time, creating their funny paper mache heads and stuffing newspaper in their psychodelic clothes.

The little dummies were adorable. I couldn’t throw them away, so I took them home and set them on straw bales in my front yard.

I donned my black hoodie, my graduation robe and a mask. I sat in between the dummies on the bales of straw.

Waiting. Watching.

Three little dummies.

Then they pulled up. Two guys. Two girls. Giggling.

The boys went to work immediately, tossing their rolls high in the trees, but the girls tied dainty toilet paper bows around the tree trunks.

Amateurs.

We waited. They moved closer, closer, and closer still to our house. Then it happened.

Trouble.

Eric’s roll of paper lodge between the branches, and he had to climb the tree to retrieve it.

Kenny aimed the hose and delicately sprayed droplets in his direction.

“Hey, Keith, was it sposed to rain tonight?”

Eric swatted his head, waiting for Keith’s reply.

“No, man.”

“Well, I feel rain. It’s getting harder. You mean you don’t feel that?”

“No, man. It ain’t raining over here. You must be seeing things or feeling things.”

The girls continued tying their bows and gossiping by the trees, but Keith edged closer to me. I growled, low, like a dog, and then I growled again.

“Hey, Eric, (Southern pronunciation—Urk)  did you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

 “That dog. I think there’s a dog.”

(We’re from the South, so dog is pronounced dawwwg around here, just like Eric is pronounced Urk. I know you’re painting a pretty good visual image here. I want you to hear it too.)

“No, man. I don’t reckon there’s a dawg around here.”

“Well, I hear a dawg.”

Eric removed himself from the tree and resumed his tossing of the rolls.

Keith edged closer. I growled a little louder. He moved closer. I almost barked.

I don’t know how Kenny and I managed to time it so perfectly, but in unison, he lept from the house, his black robe flying in the breeze, and I sprung up from the bale of straw, leaving the other two dummies behind.

We chased those pesky kids down the road, listening to them scream like banshees all the way. It would have been even funnier if they hadn’t almost run us down as they gassed their get-away car.

But we were young, foolish, and agile. We did a pretty good job of dodging them.

Ah, youth.

All right, you plotting whipper snappers. Don’t expect either of us to jump from the roof tops or to chase you down the road. We’re too old for that nonsense. Bones break. Our bodies are slow.

And if you choose to do something such as throw eggs or damage property, you will hurt my feelings. Seriously.

Truthfully, guys, don’t do that to ANYONE. It’s not funny. It’s hurtful. It’s just plain mean.

Rolling yards?

Yeah, okay. I can live with that–if you can live with the consequences.

In the words of the great poet philosopher Toby Keith, “I ain’t as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.”

Think ninja. You won’t see me, but you’ll regret that I was there.

Hope you have a happy and SAFE October.

 Come back tomorrow for the next installment of my Halloween “Horror” Stories,  The Ballad of Darryl T.