Halloween is my absolute favorite holiday. I’m not sure if its the smell of chili on the stove and corn muffins in the oven or the sound of the rustle of the leaves as the wind carries them up the side of our house, but Halloween has both a comforting and spooky feeling, all at the same time. Throughout the weeks before Halloween, my television is consumed with scary movies or episodes of Roseanne’s tribute to the most wonderful holiday of the year. While driving in my car, I either listen to scary audio books or stories told on the radio, both reminding me of the earliest Halloween tale I ever heard…the scariest Halloween story that ever’d was!
As far back as I can remember Halloween was always a big deal at our house. Costumes were never store bought but were always deliberately picked and constructed weeks in advance. By the time I was in late elementary school, all of the neighborhood kids decided we should design elaborate haunted houses, intricately fabricated with mazes of black crepe paper from floor to ceiling and tons of little spots to jump out and spook the guests, if they dare! Ours was no run of the mill garage haunted house. Ours was the real deal.
Our annual haunted houses ran for the next couple of years. Inside, my mother would cook up a heaping pot of chili and loaves of garlic bread while her friends and neighbors drank beer, smoked cigarettes and laughed with elections around the corner, oblivious to our precious freak show…just around the corner. My cousin Caroline has taken over these traditions and I look forward to these gatherings every year, even though she has started to break ritual by adding tortilla soup to the mix this year! Chili…it must always be chili!
We would take turns trick-or-treating, but most of us wanted to stay back and man the haunted house. This was back in the 80’s when kids still went trick-or-treating and the streets would be filled for two or even three days at a time; Halloween consuming an entire weekend instead of being limited to one day. We weren’t concerned with needles in our candy bars; we sought out the houses, usually the scariest, which gave the biggest treats. “Mrs. Pettiner gives out REAL Kit Kats!!!”
As the night faded away, guests started to leave and the other kids had to go home, while I was left with the loneliness only felt by only children of single parent homes; I wasn’t ready for the night to be over. Too scared now to venture into the black crepe paper of my own haunted house maze, I’d stand at the top of the garage and flick the lights, off and on, off and on, listening to my mom talk on the phone while she washed dishes.
When she was done, I’d run upstairs and slip into my pajamas. I’d come back downstairs and sit in front of the fireplace as it burned slowly towards the nights end.
“Are you too old to hear it?” she’d ask.
I’d shake my head.
“Are you sure?”
I’d nod and start laughing. Mom would stand up, maybe a little tipsy from the days before she gave up the sauce, and would retrieve her favorite book of poetry. She’d cozy up next to me, my dog Benji at our feet chewing on a bone while the fire cracked and spit it’s last breath before dying to slofly glowing, orange embers. She would read the poem with such drama and such finesse as if she were an actress on a stage, the entire audience silent, waiting for the soft words she whispered, her finger raised in the air as if she were an old gypsy, spinning a tale to heed carefully. Licking her finger, she’d turn the page and begin to read…the scariest story that ever’d was. And this Halloween I’d like to share it with you in hopes that you may pass it on the way my mother did to me. But of course, don’t get too scared!
Little Orphant Annie – Poem by James Whitcomb Riley
To all the little children: — The happy ones; and sad ones;
The sober and the silent ones; the boisterous and glad ones;
The good ones — Yes, the good ones, too; and all the lovely bad ones.
Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,
An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,
An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,
An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;
An’ all us other childern, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun
A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you
Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn’t say his prayers,–
An’ when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an’ his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An’ when they turn’t the kivvers down, he wuzn’t there at all!
An’ they seeked him in the rafter-room, an’ cubby-hole, an’ press,
An’ seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an’ ever’-wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an’ roundabout:–
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
An’ one time a little girl ‘ud allus laugh an’ grin,
An’ make fun of ever’ one, an’ all her blood-an’-kin;
An’ wunst, when they was ‘company,’ an’ ole folks wuz there,
She mocked ’em an’ shocked ’em, an’ said she didn’t care!
An’ thist as she kicked her heels, an’ turn’t to run an’ hide,
They wuz two great big Black Things a-standin’ by her side,
An’ they snatched her through the ceilin’ ‘fore she knowed what she’s about!
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
An’ little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
An’ the lamp-wick sputters, an’ the wind goes woo-oo!
An’ you hear the crickets quit, an’ the moon is gray,
An’ the lightnin’-bugs in dew is all squenched away,–
You better mind yer parunts, an’ yer teachurs fond an’ dear,
An’ churish them ‘at loves you, an’ dry the orphant’s tear,
An’ he’p the pore an’ needy ones ‘at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you