Saturday, October 31, 2009

And you always thought it was the pumpkin

As this is written, it's Halloween - that very special time for ghosts and goblins. And costume-clad little kids carrying sacks to be loaded with candy and other treats. But it has never been limited to little kids like Margaret O'Brien in the movie "Meet Me In St. Louis."
Remember the scene? She was with a gang of kids - she was the smallest - and was pushed up to the door of the meanest man on the street so he could end up with a faceful of flour?
No, Halloween was for teenage boys as well - and I remember the occasion(s) well.
There was a time when a fender of a 1930's car was run up the flagpole in the center of our village. One year someone put a farm wagon on top of the Methodist church - another year a surrey was placed on top of the shed behind the church - in those days some churches had sheds where church folk could leave their horses and buggies during the church services.
It was a tradition at Halloween to soap up windows but the town leaders got a better idea - why not have a contest and let school children make a supervised project of fancy paintings on store windows using a base of Bon Ami to help with the cleaning when the season was past. I even did that with Christmas paintings on mirrors on our homes and once on a display window
in an Italian hotel in the mid-fifties. Lovers of art as they are, the folks in the town loved the American contribution to the Christmas season in their town.
We always had a Halloween parade in town and the high school band (all 8 or ten of them) was featured. Half the band was percussion as I recall but we made a joyful noise unto the community just the same.
One time I remember some of the boys loading up a big trash can with old, dried up highly flammable nitrate movie film, setting the barrel in front of the firehouse, and torching it off.
It provided the best explosion and fire in several years and and the firemen were not impressed.
Appreciative that they didn't have to take the truck out - but not happy just the same.
However, the real symbol of Halloween was not the pumpkin. While in grade school the thrill was making jack-o-lanterns. But when we became teenagers it became the season of the outhouse. The more outhouses that could be tipped the better - and if we could tip one with someone in it, all the better. Sadly, the outhouse is gone along with steam locomotives but memories still remain for some old guys who remember the day of the outhouse. There's a book that memorializes the "necessary house": Nature Calls by Dottie Booth and published by Ten Speed Press. It's a history book worth looking at.
But my father was smarter than many teenagers -- when we finally got running water in our house he invited our fire department to a beer bust in our back yard - and in the process told them they could have a training event by burning down the outhouse. A good time was had by all except the teenagers the following Halloween -- after all, outhouses were meant for teenagers at Halloween - not firemen at a beer bust. Happy Halloween!

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