Halloween wasn’t really my thing as a kid.
It may explain why my idea of a great costume was an old bed sheet with holes cut into it for eyes. Part of it had to do with practicality as $10 for a costume was big money 50 years ago. And part of it had to do with size. Bed sheets came in one-size-fits-all even for a “chunky” 8 -year-old.
Nor did I scare easily. Credit that to being the youngest of three brothers who believed that part of being an older sibling was practicing the three “T”s – tormenting, terrorizing, and torturing.
As I became older, Halloween paled in the scare factor compared to the first week of November when elections fall. Dracula, even in his scariest rendition, can’t generate – nor breed on – fear like a politician. Nor can the count extract as much from you either. Dracula just wants blood. Politicians want your soul and money.
You’d think that with my overindulgence in sweets as a kid that Halloween would be up my alley. It wasn’t. Most Halloween candy in the 1960s was penny ante stuff and not smaller versions of the good stuff you could buy for a nickel at the store. You can tell you’re getting old when the money that would buy a giant candy bar of your youth won’t even cover the tax on a mini-version of the same candy bar today. Of course, they didn’t tax candy back then and certainly no one was pondering a sin tax on them either.
Being a widow with four kids and a business to run, mom rarely was home for Halloween. That’s because she made it a point to make sure those who worked at the Squirrel Cage – the small frostie (think the style of the Sno-White Drive-In) she owned – and those who had small kids would have the night off to take them trick or treating.
So it was a treat when she finally had an Oct. 31 off. I was an eighth grader, my middle brother was a high school senior and my oldest brother was at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Mom decided earlier that day she wanted to do something different. The last time she said she was able to have “fun” on Halloween was just before the war started. She was in high school and a group of friends managed to put a two-seater outhouse in front of the theatre in Lincoln on Halloween night without being detected.
So Mom called up our cousins and we spent that Saturday afternoon scrounging in the basement and garage for stuff.
Among them was a gravestone my brother made as a Cal Poly architectural student, a 33 1/3 record of Disney Haunted House sounds, bed sheets, flour and make-up, chains, strobe lights, plastic replicas of Samurai swords, cotton that with a lot of painstaking effort was able to create spider webs, three fairly large cast iron kettles including one that closely resembled a witch’s cauldron, old ragged clothes, and my middle brother’s shot put.
WIth a full-size basement, you had to walk up six steps to get to our front door. And once that was opened, there was a long hallway that extended 50 feet with a number of rooms off of it.
The stereo was set up at the end of the hallway. Since I was kind of a kill joy for the entire idea of an impromptu scare house, my task was to simply stay out of sight at the end of the hall and put the needle back at the start of the LP when it got to the last sound track that included dripping water, howling winds, creaking floors, and “space sounds” among others.
Little kids would be allowed to collect candy from one of the cast iron pots my mom – who was made-up to look like a hunchback complete with heavy make-up and the shot put attached to her ankle by a heavy chain – handed out on the front lawn. Older kids would be offered the option for a large 3 Musketeers or Milky Way bar. All they had to do was walk to the end of the hallway and pick what they could out of a pot that was placed there. The stereo was cranked up. Strobe lights were flashing in combination with a black light or two. And behind each door off the hallway was someone in a scary disguise waiting to jump out to surprise them.
The kids that made it to the back of the hallway – often after several retreats – would scamper out with three or so large candy bars.
It was hard to tell who had more fun – the kids or my Mom.
Mom thought she did a great job with her costume. She did actually. So she decided afterwards to have a little fun. We piled into the station wagon and Mom went around town making various stops. She’d park the car out of sight, knock on a door of a friend, wave, and then leave. No one recognized her.
The final stop was at the Lincoln Inn. As we waited in the car, mom got out, attached the chain and shot put to her ankle and went into the front door dragging her foot.
A minute later she came out the side door. She was miffed. Just as she entered the door, one of the patrons had turned around and said “Hi, Verna.”
Who recognized her? One of her prankster partners from a Halloween 30 years earlier that she hadn’t seen in at least a decade.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-249-3519.