Bluefield Daily Telegraph
When I was a kid in South Charleston, Halloween was a huge deal in our community. Our neighborhood would be bustling with kids roaming the streets, going over the lawns and cutting between cars. Naturally, they quickly filled everything from pillow cases to plastic pumpkins with pounds of candy.
My sister Karen and I joined in the mayhem. I became everything from classic bed sheet ghost to an elaborate cardboard robot; I didn’t get too far in the costume, but I think I scored enough candy to make the effort worthwhile. Karen became a variety of princesses and other characters, and won a prize one year for her southern belle costume.
Our house bordered the woods, so it created a nice dark background. One Halloween, Dad found this huge, wonderfully grotesque pumpkin — I swear to God it had a chin — and carved this gruesome, roaring face on it.
As jack-o’-lanterns go, it was extremely successful. Jack-o’-lanterns are supposed to scare away evil spirit, and I’m sure that one worked. The family dog wouldn’t go anywhere near it, and I think it scared off more than one trick or treater. Dad cut ear holes, strung a rope through it, and dug out a heavy-duty power cord and light. He stuck a red lightbulb into the pumpkin and proceeded to hang it from the tree in the front yard.
Now that was a special effect! The tree was cloaked in darkness and all you could see was that glowing demonic face. Two teen girls later told us they were reluctant to come down the street because they “didn’t know what that thing was!”
Mom would keep the house dark and put spooky electric candlelights in the windows. More than one little trick or treater refused to go up to the front door.
Eventually, the trick or treaters grew up and the crowds slowly dwindled. Karen and I moved on to other pursuits. Later, I rediscovered the delights of Halloween when I attended Marshall University in Huntington. I joined the science fiction society, so we had some pretty wild Halloween parties. We had plenty of booze and food, and our costumes were interesting to say the least.
I dug up an old pith helmet and went as a crocodile hunter one holiday. Some of my cohorts’ costumes got extreme. We didn’t need a carved pumpkin to scare the evil spirits away. The only evil spirits we had to deal with were the ones we drank. Things got a little rowdy sometimes. If zombies had shown up, it would have been too bad for them; then again, we probably wouldn’t have noticed them.
One time we got together, got inebriated, and cheered the Martians as they blasted everybody in sight in that 1950s “War of the Worlds” movie. Wait a second. That wasn’t one of the Halloween parties. We just did that because we felt like it.
Halloween celebrates the things that scare us and the fun of a good scary story or scary movie. Even foreign visitors quickly catch on to the idea. One time I met this Russian woman who fell in love with Halloween. Apparently they don’t have Halloween in Russia, which really surprised me, but she liked the idea of dressing up in costumes and going out for parties and candy. She collected Halloween items before she returned to Russia and swore she would celebrate it with her little girl. I like to think somewhere in the old Soviet Union, Halloween is spreading like a zombie virus.
I’ll admit some Halloween costumes get extreme, and I always avoided costumes that might be too much for little kids. The holiday should be a fun time for them, so there’s no reason to scare them too much. You want them to have pleasant memories of going door to door and counting up the loot afterward. I fondly remember all the chocolate that is now forbidden on my diet. I miss Milk Duds and Crackle bars! And I still remember those homemade candy popcorn balls one neighbor handed out. Sticky goo and popcorn husks would get stuck between my teeth, but they tasted so good.
Items that would still make a good Halloween costume lurk among my belongings. I have an ironwood hiking stick that would make a good wizard’s staff. A garment called a swordsman’s shirt is in my closet, and various other goods would turn me into a wizard ready for a trek across Middle Earth. I even have a couple of gurkha knives that would make an orc think twice and shorten a zombie a little bit, but those would have to stay home.
I’ll have a bag of candy ready just in case some little trick or treaters show up at my door tonight. Seeing the little ones enjoying themselves is fun. If zombies or vampires show up, I’m not at home; unless the caller’s a good-looking vampire lady. I’ve given blood in the past.
Greg Jordan is senior reporter for the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.