My favorite Halloween . . . ever!
By John Marlowe
Have you ever noticed how we are frightened by things that never frighten other people? Vice versa, too. For instance, I’m not really bothered by public speaking, whereas most of my friends would rather undergo a prostatectomy with hedge clippers.
That’s the way I feel about Halloween. I don’t ever recall being scared on Halloween, even when my preschool peers were.
We lived in a small suburban farming town of about 750 people, fertile ground for the best Trick-or-Treating.
My favorite Halloween was when I was about nine.
My brother, Todd, and his friend, Brian, engineered a homemade scarecrow to swing from our neighbor’s giant maple tree into the path of revelers coming up the walk. Made with autumn leaves stuffed into an old pair of overalls, and complete with a counterweight to keep the ghoul upright when it landed on the sidewalk, the boys hid in the bushes, waiting for their next victims.
As an older child, I was in charge of a posse of 10 neighborhood kids. We went door to door, reaping a harvest of sugary treats.
Every stop was full of laughter and fun. We never thought about being scared.
The only thing that truly frightened me on Halloween was the town bully. I won’t mention his name, but his initials are Roger Adair. Okay, that isn’t his real name either, but I just want “Roger” to know that, if he’s out there reading my column . . . I still remember.
Roger made it his personal challenge every day to make my life miserable. I won’t go into details, but if, back then, we had the same emphasis on stopping bullying that we do, today, Roger would just now be finishing up a 40-year term at Leavenworth.
Roger’s thing on Halloween was to steal candy from all the younger kids he met.
It was widely known among the kids –– but evidently not Roger -– that the finest Halloween treats came from the two-story Victorian house on Iowa Street, tucked back in the giant pines. In the daylight, it was a venerable abode, yet the paint suffered from years of disregard. At night, in the shadows, it made the Bates Motel look like Trump Towers.
The house was inhabited by the widow Sybil Green and her daughter “Biffy.” No two people loved Halloween more. Biffy spent days making homemade treats to share with the children she adored.
Sybil always answered the bell, and Biffy strode up to the door, carrying a giant silver tray. Under its huge dome lid were caramel popcorn balls, maple pinwheels, candied and caramel apples, divinity candy, three kinds of fudge –– all the old favorites of a time gone by. There wasn’t a store-bought candy in sight.
Everything Biffy made for Halloween was special. Biffy was special, too.
In her youth, Biffy had a reaction to medicine that left her deaf and mute. She communicated by a series of grunts that vaguely mimicked the “waa-pa-waa-waa” of an old motor.
For young children, meeting Biffy for the first time could be unsettling. But the understanding that came with getting to know her erased all that, and usually ended in hugs.
This particular year, no sooner than we left Sybil and Biffy’s, Roger accosted us on the sidewalk. He marveled at the candies we had in our bags, and demanded our prize.
“You can get your own, there,” I said, pointing. “The last of the Green family lives there. Daughter and mother. The oldest daughter cut the heads off of her sisters with a butcher knife, and then she cut off her own tongue as penance. People believe that on Halloween, the murderous daughter comes to the door with one sister’s head on a silver tray.”
The gauntlet was thrown. To his credit, Roger did manage to ring the doorbell. But when Biffy came to the door carrying that tray, mouthing her guttural hello, Roger turned and ran screaming through the adjacent three yards –– in the last of which stood the mighty maple tree . . . and the scarecrow.
When my brother and his friend heard Roger, gasping and running through the leaves, they too became frightened, and dropped the ripcord as they fled. In true Ichabodian justice, the scarecrow swung from its perch, and caught Roger chest high. The beast upended the bully, launched his stash of pilfered candy flying, before sending him home in terror.
Yes, I still feel a bit ashamed, today. What if I traumatized Roger against Halloween? What if all these years later, he’s still frightened? What if he still has nightmares?
Roger, if you are out there, today, I just have one thing I want to say to you . . . Boo!
John O. Marlowe is an award-winning columnist for Sagamore News Media.