Falling leaves, frosty mornings and Halloween.
Fall is here, and with October's drop in temperature, out come the hats and gloves, the leaf piles appear and the woodsy chimney smoke fills the air. In Me-ville, this is the most wonderful time of the year. I know. Andy Williams would argue, and once December rolls around I'll agree with him, but for now, it's all about the crunchy leaves under my boots, my breath visible in the air and an underlying current of spooky things.
In the small southern town where I grew up, not much has changed over the years. And I've noticed as I've traveled, that so many small towns across the U.S. have numerous things in common, one of which is that they don't evolve a whole lot. I like that about them. On the picturesque tree-lined streets where I spent my first 12 or so years, the lovely brick and wood houses have not been yuppy-ized. I'm not sure why, but I am pleased with this lack of change. The town is still all pretty much a colorized version of Leave it to Beaver land, and that's good with me. I go back and visit from time to time and am always pleased to discover that there is nothing to discover. (No upgrades needed here, thank you. We're good.)
Well, with the exception of one major change that I stumbled upon a few years back. My old elementary school, St. Clair Elementary, has been converted into luxury condominiums. Thankfully no extreme exterior changes were made. That beautiful old one-story red brick building with all the giant double hung windows, tall doors and high ceilings feels no different than it did when I attended class there for 6 years as a child. It still sits proudly beside a lovely park with huge oak and elm trees which seem to lead the parade and rule the world during Fall. The creek at the edge of the park makes the setting perfect.
I can remember my school's build up to Halloween each year. Around October 1st it seemed that the primary focus of all of our teachers was to create a festive Halloween spirit. Each classroom would be involved in it's own spooky project and our Halloween decorations would adorn every wall, door and window. We played creepy songs on record players (did I just say that?), we told scary ghost stories and turned all of our art supplies into witches, goblins and ghosts. What fun!
Walking home from school each day, we would plow through layers of fallen leaves on the sidewalks under our feet. Piles of raked leaves would burn and smolder in street gutters, filling the crisp, cold air with that unmistakable smell of fall. The trees were bare and whether the day was sunny or gray, Halloween was fast approaching and we could see and feel the evidence of that everywhere.
During these first days of October, my friends and I would plan our routes for trick or treating - weeks in advance. We noted which neighbors would be out of town (dark - no candy!), which houses had new owners (no idea what to expect!), homes with new babies (lights out early - don't be late!), even which homes had experienced a death in the family that year (should we go there or not? Our parents would make that call for us).
And then there was the handful of 'Witch Houses' in our neighborhoods, which we classified as such for a variety of reasons. Some had the whole creepy, dark and foreboding thing going on. Others were simply large old mysterious houses, occupied by grumpy old owners who would shoo us away if we happened to unwittingly take our games of hide and seek, or freeze tag onto their property. A few houses may have been labeled as 'spooky' only because their owners were rarely seen.
It's strange to remember the way our imaginative little minds processed thoughts and ideas back then.
One thing is for sure. Halloween and trick or treating spawned my insatiable passion (fetish) for houses. For weeks I looked forward to the moment that I could walk up the sidewalk and look through the windows of these old houses as we approached the porch to ring the doorbell and shout "Trick or Treat!". I anticipated getting a glimpse into the house more than I did receiving the candy it's owner would undoubtedly bestow on me.
Each and every house on our route had something that I wanted to see or experience. Yes, I was the goofy little bunny or princess (always something pink - ehhhk!) who would linger and lean in to look around as our Trick or Treat-ees had completed their end of the deal and were attempting to close their doors. I was ever ready to jump if we were invited into a foyer or living room. Each house had it's own feel and smell and I craved the experience of being inside any of them! (See? Fetish.)
Trick or Treat for Unicef. I was a Unicef rock-star. Collecting coins for this cause boosted my candy high for sure and gave trick or treating a whole new level of importance. I loved that!
Watching "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" during the week before Halloween was a huge treat, too. Back then there was no cable (gasp! I did it again!) so TV Guide told us what to watch and when. Just like Rudolph, Frosty, the Grinch and A Charlie Brown Christmas in December, this was an October tradition.
As was carving the pumpkin and placing it on the porch. The nightly lighting of our jack-o-lantern (we never called it that... only 'the pumpkin') was my dad's job and he made a great ceremony of this process for me each evening, once it was dark out.
Does anyone else recall a particular type of 'candy' available only at Halloween... the orange wax harmonica? And the red wax lips? Anyone? Anyone? I know. Buh-zar, but hey! There ain't no accountin' for some peoples' taste... or memory!
How about an old song which we learned in 2nd or 3rd grade music class that went:
Stirring and stirring and stirring my brew.
Stirring and stirring and stirring my brew.
Tip toe. Tip toe. Tip toe. Tip toe.
OK, Ok. I digress. But this is about memories of childhood Halloweens (and wanting to be 7 again!) So please indulge me and feel free to share yours, too. Try to top me on the candycorn-o-meter.
(I double dog dare ya!)
Happy Halloween Friends...
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